I. Introduction, Definition
In our tech-savvy society, cyber-bullying has become a rampant problem. Bullies not only push and shove on the playground; now they also insult and harass on the internet, hiding safely behind a mask of anonymity.
Cyber-bullying is the repeated harassment of a person through an electronic medium, such as e-mail, text messaging, or social networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc.). It is most prevalent among children and teenagers who have access to these modes of communication at increasingly younger ages. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 43% of teenagers report that they have been victims of cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying is often much more severe than traditional bullying because it allows the bully to hide behind an electronic façade. This permits the cyber-bully to be much harsher than he/she would be in person. The intensity of this harassment can have terrible psychological effects on victims.
II. Types, Examples
There are varying types of cyber-bullying. The first, and most common, is when a person is harassed by a cyber-bully via inappropriate or degrading texts, e-mails, or other electronic messages. Another type occurs when a cyber-bully hijacks a person’s identity (i.e. their Facebook or Myspace profile) and defames their character by acting inappropriately in the social media sphere. All forms of cyber-bullying are dangerous and detrimental to a person’s emotional well-being.
In a recent investigation, the New York Times highlighted several examples of cyber-bullying among teenagers. One in particular dealt with a ninth grade student whose Facebook profile was hijacked and subsequently used to lambaste other students. As a consequence, the student was completely ostracized by his fellow classmates to the point of depression. Following a police investigation, it was discovered that the cyber-bullies behind the incident were friends of the victim.
Another instance involved a teenage boy who stole a fellow female classmate’s phone and sent hateful text messages to her friends. After sending the messages, he deleted them from her phone so she had no idea the incident had even taken place.
III. Laws, Statutes
Since it is a relatively new crime, lawmakers are still struggling to pass effective legislation that prohibits cyber-bullying. Only a handful of states have passed laws that deal directly with cyber-bullying. Most states simply categorize it under existing harassment laws. Minnesota law states that “Each school board shall adopt a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student. The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use” (revisor.mn.gov).
This statute is well-intentioned but less than effective. Less than half of Minneapolis Public Schools currently have a policy on cyber-bullying. Schools also refuse to get involved in incidents that occur after school hours, which is when most kids are online. Even when an incident is investigated, it is nearly impossible for school administrators and police to keep track of a student’s online activities because of the anonymity the internet provides.
IV. Advice for Parents and Victims
Cyber-bullying is extremely dangerous. It can lead to depression and even suicide. It is important that children who are cyber-bullied tell someone they can trust, such as a parent, teacher, or even the authorities depending on the severity of the harassment. Victims should also preserve and document all accounts of bullying. This means saving texts and emails so they can be used as evidence if need be.
It is also important that parents educate themselves on the dangers of cyber-bullying, and that they teach their children how to safely use the internet. The most important thing in all instances of cyber-bullying is absolute transparency so that children understand the harmful effects of cyber-bullying.
When your child is a victim of cyber-bullying, it is difficult to decide what course of action to take. Do you contact the school, the authorities, or even the bully’s parents? Obviously if physical threats or sexually explicit materials are involved, contacting the police immediately is the best course of action. But in more subtle cases, experts cannot agree wholeheartedly. Some say handling the situation privately between parents is best. This largely depends on the mindset of each parent, however. Sometimes parent-to-parent “resolution” can make things even worse for a child, inducing such jibes as “mamma’s boy” from classmates.
Perhaps an even more difficult question is what to do if your child is the bully? First and foremost, it is important to make sure that your child understands the problem and the consequences of cyber-bullying. Firm consequences in response to cyber-bullying also tell a child that such behavior is unacceptable.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of cyber-bullying, visit this site for a compilation of resources: cyberbullying.us/resources.php