Cyberbullying and Your Anxious Child: Part 3 of 3

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cyberbullyingThis post the third installment in our three-part series on bullying and your anxious child. Click here to read part 2.

Pulling pigtails on the playground can be so passé when bullies now have a whole new realm to terrorize. Welcome to the cyber arena, a world full of cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops and other electronic devices that is stocked chock full of those things called cyber bullies.

Cyberbullying can have the same detrimental effects as traditional bullying, especially when it comes to depression and risk of suicide, according to recent research. Also like traditional bullying, many states have laws surrounding cyberbullying which may dictate that children involved in cyberbullying can be formally charged with harassment in court.

What Is a Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that has entered the electronic age. In addition to taking place on computers and the aforementioned devices, it can happen on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, via text messages and verbal communications, in chat rooms and on blogs and websites. Cyberbullying still consists of the same type of actions that qualify as traditional bullying, but on a whole new level.

Just to remind, bullying consists of any verbal, physical or psychological attacks or intimidation meant to harm or exert power. The new level of cyberullying transforms the old standbys into new forms. Examples can include:

Physical harm. Although your anxious child can’t be pushed, punched or tripped through a computer screen, the threat of physical harm can still play a role in cyberbullying. Even if the bully is miles away, the threat of physical harm hits really close to home with messages to the victim that promise to “beat you up next time I see you” or the more general yet still ominous “you better watch your back.”

Rumors. Spreading rumors via email, text messages or on websites, social media sites and in chat rooms can be wider reaching than passing nasty notes or whispers in school. The rumors have the potential to reach a huge amount of people pretty much instantly and can travel far beyond the local classroom to anywhere in the world within seconds.

People can also easily copy and paste the message to further post and send as they wish for quick delivery to even more people. John Palfrey, Harvard Law School professor and co-director of Harvard’s Berman Center for Internet & Society, sums it up in a New York Times interview:

“I think it’s somewhat more explosive to spread a rumor on the Internet,” Palfrey says, “Because it spreads so quickly, and the scale, the scope of it can be much greater. One of the things you hear from people who have been the victim of a malicious rumor is that the hurt is more, because so many people could have seen it so quickly and it’s so hard to respond to it.”

He adds another layer that can especially affect anxious children, which is that of the worry that plagues the victim.

“There’s also the sense from the person who’s being harmed by it that, oh my God, any one of over a billion people could have seen this thing about me and it’s so embarrassing,” Palfrey points out.

Name-calling, hurtful remarks, full fledged attacks. The attacks and name-calling in the cyber arena can be done in personal emails, but they can also be frequently seen in open forums. When your anxious kid is attacked in private it hurts. When he or she is attacked in front of a wide cyber audience, the pain of the attack can be compounded by further humiliation and shame. Suddenly everyone and anyone who happens to visit the specific site where the bullying took place have an instant play-by-play of what went down.

Sexual remarks about a person, sexting a person, or circulating sexually suggestive photos of a person. The same types of sexual harassment that goes down in real life can also happen in the cyber world. The cyberbullying arena also contains the act of sexting, or sending sexually suggestive messages or photos to someone. Even if the “someone” is a trusted boyfriend or girlfriend, kids who are found to have sexually explicit photos of the younger set can be charged with the federal crimes of production, distribution or possession of child pornography.

Stealing people’s account information is a form of cyberbullying, as are the actions that typically follow such a theft. People often hack into a person’s account to send out damaging messages as if they were that person. Pretending to be someone else, whether by breaking into their online accounts, setting up fake accounts or posting or relaying messages and photos under a false name also count as cyberbullying when the intent is to harm.

Taking or distributing unflattering photos of someone is another form of cyberbullying that can be harmful as well as humiliating. The extreme popularity of cameras and even video reorders on most electronic devices make this practice easy to achieve and something anxious kids especially should be on the lookout for. The activity may be particularly prevalent at wild parties or sleepovers where kids fall asleep and become easy prey for would-be bullies with a camera.

Cyberbullying by the Numbers 

bullying-phone-ihateyouAlthough cyberbullying remains relatively new in the world of bullying, statistics that have been collected show it runs rampant. The following numbers come from the i-SAFE foundation, Harford County Examiner, uknowkids.com, and the Cyberbullying Research Center.

  • 1 million – number of kids in 2011 who were victims of cyberbullying on Facebook alone
  • More than 50 – percentage of adolescents and teens who have been bullied online
  • More than 50 – percentage of adolescents and teens who have bullied someone else online
  • 33 – percentage of kids who have experienced cyberthreats
  • 25 – percentage of kids who have been repeatedly bullied via their cell phones or the Internet
  • 20 – percentage of teens who have sent or posted naked or sexually suggestive photos of themselves
  • 10 to 20 – percentage of kids who regularly experience some form of cyberbullying
  • 10 – percentage of youth who have had damaging or humiliating photos taken without their permission

Also on the lower end of the scale, less than 20 percent of cyberbullying incident are ever reported to law enforcement and less than 50 percent are reported by the victim to their parents.

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1 million children a year are victims of cyberbullying on Facebook alone. [tweet this]

What Makes Cyberbullying Potentially More Damaging

The extremely rapid flow of information is a danger you’ve already met, and there are several others that make cyberbullying more damaging than traditional bullying techniques.

Tougher to duck

Cyberbullies can be tougher to avoid than in-person bullies. Anxious children can’t as easily take a different route to class when the cyber world has reached the point where it reaches all areas of our lives. The stopbullying.gov website also notes cyberbullying can be active all day, every day, and even into the night. It can reach your anxious child at school, but it can also follow him home, pop up on the living room computer or even invade the sanctuary of his own room when he is not even in the presence of any other kids.

Tougher to trace 

The anonymity of the Internet makes it a veritable breeding ground for bullies, both those who regularly bully in person as well as those who may be disinclined to act out in person. Here they can openly and easily put down, disgrace or otherwise attack with no one knowing who they are. Kids, and even adults, who may not engage in such behaviors in real life, face-to-face situations can suddenly act out with abandon. They are also less inclined to get caught.

“Students who cyberbully others are relatively protected by the anonymity of electronic forms of contact, which can safeguard them from punishment or retaliation,” according to a report at Education.com. It can be tough, or sometimes impossible, to trace the origin of the bullying.

Tougher to delete

Once a message, photo or comment makes its way into cyber space, it can remain there virtually forever. Even if the original message or photo is completely erased, the chances are great that copy of it is still floating around and available.

Tougher to corral

Due to the fact that cyberbullying can happen anytime, anywhere, schools and parents alike can have a tougher time preventing it or reining it in. Sometimes schools may be not want to get involved in the issue at all if the cyberbullying did not specifically occur on school grounds.

“School officials are sometimes reluctant to get involved in incidents that frequently originate or occur away from campus,” according to an article published in the Journal of School Health, “but failure to do so could place students at risk for multiple developmental issues.” 

Due to school policies that often restrict the use of cell phones and other devices during school hours, the Education.com article points out that it’s expected cyberbullying frequently occurs away from school. This does not, however, make schools exempt from addressing the issue.

“Although much of this cyberbullying is reportedly done by school peers,” Education.com says, “cyberbullying is an issue not only for schools, but also for families and communities.” 

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More than HALF of teens have been bullied online [tweet this]

What Schools Can do About Cyberbullying

Being aware of the problem and its wide range of forms is a great start, as is including a section in the school’s anti-bullying policy specifically dedicated to cyberbullying. Eduation.com points out some programs already in place:

“New technologies are already being used in some schools to report both bullying and cyber-bullying behavior (e.g., school websites, bully inboxes, www.textsomeone.com), and Peer Mentors are being used in virtual situations (e.g. ChildLine call centres or the B-Friend 4 U project),” the article notes. “In this way, the anonymity that is afforded to the bully can be used more constructively to provide both help and support for victims of cyberbullying.”

Another tip is to send out cyberbullying information throughout the entire community, as the practice can happen any time as well as any place.

On the flipside of the issue is Palfrey’s suggestion for students who witness cyberbullying or those who instantly believe all the rumors or damaging information they see online.

“I think almost no emphasis is being put on giving kids the skills that they need to sort credible from noncredible information,” Palfrey tells The New York Times. “Schools have to wake up and have to give those skills to our kids. It’s the critical thinking skill of the 21st century that they’re going to need, sorting credible from not credible information. And I think we’re asleep at the switch.”

He suggests using Wikipedia entries as examples, as some of the entries are heavily researched and backed by references while others are pocked with obvious errors, notations calling for verification of information or even outright lies.

“There are lots of stories where people have introduced lots of false information through Wikipedia and it remains there,” he says.

What Parents and Kids Can do About Cyberbullying

Taking openly about cyberbullying is a great way to keep the entire door open for your anxious kid to share his or her own experiences as a victim, witness or even as a bully. Not every child may be aware of the significant damage cyberbullying can cause or they may even be engaging in it with realizing what they’re doing.

You can also help protect your anxious children with the following tips from Bullyingstatistics.org:

  • Reassure them being bullied is not their fault and they by no means deserve it
  • Save all cyberbullying messages, photos and other info as proof the bullying is taking place
  • Block the bullies’ messages, if possible
  • Ensure your anxious children know to protect their passwords, email address, phone number and other personal information and only give out contact information with care
  • Remind your kids not to share any information electronically that they would not want to be made public, because it very well may be
  • Make sure you have access to all your kids’ online accounts so you can spot-check for issues if necessary

SOURCES: 

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