Cyberbullying, Part I: From Schoolyard Bullying to Cyberbullying
According to PACER, the organization behind National Bullying Prevention Month, about 22% of students are bullied during the school year. But that is almost half of the number of kids who are bullied online–nearly 43% of kids report being bullied online, while 25% have experienced it more than once.
Essentially, cyberbullying is not a small subset of bullying. It’s the single biggest part, and therefore the most important thing to address.
How Did This Happen?
For decades, schoolyard bullying has been the technique of choice. Often a bully and several of their friends corner someone away from any supervisors who might put a stop to the problem.
This all started to change when bullies and victims got their hands on smartphones. The average child now receives a personal device when they’re about twelve years old, at which point they’re in 6th or 7th grade. They’re entering junior high, where recess and the playground no longer exist, but the digital world has expanded the ways and places in which children interact.
Technology has, in effect, removed the traditional barriers of time and space between bullies and their victims. They can interact in real-time, before and after school, between classes—even during class.
On a basic level, bullies are looking to get two things from their victims.
- First, bullies want a reaction. They want someone else to be upset, especially because this gives them a feeling of power and control. If victims aren’t reacting–or worse, actively ignoring them–then the bullies aren’t satisfied.
- Second, bullies want to brag. They want their friends to see them as bigger, stronger, and more important than anyone else, so it’s not unusual for bullies to show their friends what they’ve been doing and loudly talk about how “stupid” or “weak” their victim is.
Social media is the perfect setting for both. It’s a public arena with often little parental oversight. 91% of young people think it’s easier to get away with bullying online.
However, just because cyberbullying is easier online doesn’t mean it’s isolated to the digital world. Most bullies want to see the results of what they’re doing, either in the form of angry replies or their victim actually looking upset at school.
The Response From Authorities Needs To Change
While schoolyard bullying and cyberbullying have similar goals, the techniques used are completely different and authorities must be willing to change their strategies in response to the new techniques that bullies are using. Here are some of the biggest differences, and what responses are most appropriate:
Identification: In traditional bullying, a child can say “X did it”. Once they’ve said this, parents and teachers can keep an eye on that student and make sure they don’t try to repeat the action (and we do need proof of guilt before punishing them).
In cyberbullying, however, bullies often hide behind fake names. Fortunately, law enforcement has the ability to track people down if the bullying is too severe… but still, many cyberbullies are never directly confronted with the problem. You may have to content yourself with not being able to face them.
Stopping It: In schoolyard bullying, bullies often find a way to get their victims out of sight. In the digital world, though, there is no way of hiding what they’re doing. The child being bullied must see the nasty messages in order for bullying to happen at all, but the digital world has many ways of stopping this once it starts.
On most social networks, it’s quite easy for children to block a specific account and reject any further messages from the bully… and if that’s the only reaction a bully gets, chances are they’ll soon give up and go away.
This is quite fortunate for us; when children know that they can say “no” and make the bullying stop, it’s much harder for bullies to get leverage over them.
Not every part of our reaction needs to change, though. It’s still true that self-confidence is the best defense against bullying, and anything that helps children feel successful is still going to help. Cyberbullying is a problem, but it’s also an opportunity to teach our children how to be stronger, more confident, and more willing to find solutions to the problems in our lives.