August 16, 2016
Is Cyber-Bullying Different From Other Types of Bullying?
In the last few years, you may have heard the phrase “cyber-bullying” on parenting websites or in the news. But as with many phrases invented by the medua, the expression “cyber-bullying” is intended to cause alarm without offering a clear explanation of exactly what it means. “Cyber-bullying” simply refers to any type of harassment that a person may face over the Internet as opposed to the kind of face-to-face bullying that most people would consider more “typical” bullying. Of course as a parent, you don’t want to take chances with anything that could potentially represent a new threat to you children. So how do you strip away the media lens to determine if cyber-bullying is really something you need to worry about?
As more kids and teens have become Internet users, they have brought with them a new set of questions that parents, policy makers, and website developers must consider. In some sense, maybe it’s only natural that kids and teens would bring the drama and pettiness of high school to their online lives. With this in mind, some parents are inclined to think of cyber-bullying in the same way they think of regular bullying and assume that the same advice will hold true in this new situation.
However, according to SocialPolicy.org, kids who experience cyber-bullying may be at particular risk for developing mental health problems. And in fact, while cyber-bullying has much in common with regular bullying, there are some important differences as well.
As members of a different generation, it can sometimes be tough to recognize the degree to which kids and teens are attached to their phones, tablets, and computers. And while it’s easy to understand the role these devices play in the way kids stay entertained and do their schoolwork, it can be a little more difficult to understand the social role that these devices play in their lives. Kids are now much more likely to stay in contact with friends by texting and through social media than through phone calls, and because of the huge number of social websites now available to teens, it can be difficult to realize the scope of content and messages a teen is likely to see in a day through various websites and apps they may visit.
As a result, much of a teen’s social life now occurs outside of the parameters of a parent’s control. And the quick access that teens have to their friends through their devices is so constant that parents may not even notice how frequently their teens are talking to other people online. Thus, if your child is bullying or being bullied by someone by text, email, or through a website or app, you are not likely to know about it unless your teen tells you or gives you cause to ask.
And if a teen is facing cyber-bullying, the experience can be debilitating. Teens are so constantly surrounded by their devices that if they are being bullied, they may feel as though they can’t get away from it. And while in many cases the ways that teens will bully each other on the Internet are similar to the ways the might bully each other at school (name calling, spreading rumors, making threats, or trying to embarrass each other), and while none of these forms of bullying are in any way acceptable, there have been some cases where online bullying has been particularly severe when compared with the usual type of bullying that teens often face. In one particularly notable case, 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide in 2006 after being bullied over Myspace by what turned out to be a fake account created by another teen and her mother. The teen and the mother had been trying to trick, embarrass, and bully Meier to punish her for spreading rumors about the other teen. Eventually, the mother of the other teen faced trial, which ultimately led to the approval of new laws to protect individuals from harassment online.
Teens often find it difficult to step away from their devices, block other people, or disengage with hurtful people. They are also sometimes hesitant to tell their parents or teachers when they are being bullied. And in some cases of cyber-bullying, things can get out of hand very quickly. In another famous case, teen Ryan Halligan committed suicide after bullies tricked him into sharing embarrassing personal stories, which they then distributed through the school.
The best safeguard against severe situations of online bullying is to make sure your kids are very well informed on what bullying looks like, why bullying is unacceptable, and what they should do if they feel they are being bullied. As with face-to-face bullying, your child may find it difficult to let you know what is going on. In some cases, parents have had success with family protection software for their kids’ devices like the Rated 4 Kids program that gives parents the option to monitor or limit their kids’ use of messenger apps and social media.
Of course, kids may resist sharing the content of their online lives with you, especially if they are afraid you would be mad at them for some of their activity. For most parents, a good rule of thumb is that a child’s access to things like devices and social media should be proportional to their general behavior. You may also consider stepping in if they have been struggling with face-to-face bullies as this could indicate problems online as well.
Though kids can feel especially overwhelmed by cyber-bullying, you should always help them maintain perspective and learn how to distance themselves from negative situations. As with face-to-face bullying, early intervention is extremely important.