On July 2nd, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals officially ruled against what turned out to be a controversial law that sought to end online cyberbullying. The law, in essence, attempted to make illegal any form of online abuse that sought to harm another person emotionally. The law was summarily shot down due to its ‘breadth of application’ on the grounds that it could possibly seek to curtail the free speech of people across the world. Whether you agree with the law being shot down or not, it does bring to light just how alarming the act of cyberbullying is.
As it turns out, online abuse at the hands of peers can be one of the most influential and harmful acts a youth will encounter in their life. With this law being shot down, and the shock waves that echo out as a result, it is worth looking into just how big of a problem cyberbullying has become.
Defining the Act of Cyberbullying
Before diving into the complexity and prevalence of cyberbullying, it is worth coming to a definition of what the act actually is. Cyberbullying is a form of abuse levied through the internet toward unsuspecting children and young adults. The bullying that follows this abuse typically constitutes messages, photos, and videos in a threatening, harassing, embarrassing, or tormenting manner. The greatest problem with this online abuse is not that it lacks a physical victim, but more that it strikes young and emotionally vulnerable people where they are at their weakest: psychologically.
As opposed to regular bullying, which can be curtailed by simply avoiding the aggressors, online bullying typically has no escape. A tormentor can track their victim through the vast sprawl of the internet to continually push their buttons and try to hurt them. It’s a serious epidemic that has risen in prevalence due to the popularity of social media. Our article Cyber Bullying FAQ- Part I further discusses the difference between cyberbullying and ‘normal bullying’.
The Breadth of Cyberbullying is Always Expanding
According to this page on I-Safe.org, which is an anti-bullying proponent, nearly 42% of all young adults have been the subject of abuse on the internet. Their statistics go on to paint the picture that, once bullied, the phenomenon will most likely continue to happen. 1 in 4 of the aforementioned victims will not be left alone after their abuse has been levied and will continue on into the foreseeable future. These numbers are alarming not just for their size but for their scope.
Most children and teenagers the world over have their own cell phone or personal computer. These devices are no longer merely tools of convenience; they are now weapons by which vitriol gets thrown at their peers. Sure, in some cases, it is possible that the bullying comes from a place of good nature, but that is far from absolute. In no way, shape, or form are kids ’just being kids’ with regard to bullying.
Pressures to ‘Accept’ Online Abuse Are on The Rise
We all love to talk about ‘the old days’ and to revel in nostalgia. Many folks will revel in ‘how it used to be’ back when they had to deal with bullies. If someone said something to you, then it was handled after class and all was forgotten. This is no longer the case for new generations. Now, more than ever, young adults are being pressured into accepting online bullying as a regular part of their day-to-day lives.
The average youth checks their Facebook, Twitter or e-mail tens of times a day. Throughout these check-ins, the child will probably be exposed to some form of bullying. The prevalence of technology has diluted the minds of many young adults. With online abuse so rampant throughout their everyday lives, many children are coming to accept it as just another part of being a kid. There are no words to express how wrong this notion truly is.
When a child is at their most vulnerable, typically in their own home and on their own personal computer, they do not expect to have to deal with vitriol. Never is the vitriol earned, and, in most cases, the insults and abuse levied toward them are completely unwarranted.
There is a certain irrationality surrounding the mentality of those who engage in cyberbullying that precludes using any sort of common sense. Our article Teaching Empathy – Encouraging Appropriate Behavior tries to explain this. If a kid acts a little differently, dresses a little differently, or looks a little differently, then they will become fair game for all of the abuse in the world. It isn’t fair that their differences make them a target, but it is the truth.
What Should You Do to Prevent Cyberbullying?
According to this article on HelpGuide.org, there are many things that you, as a parent or guardian, can do to help your child deal with online bullying. The first thing that you should do when dealing with an emotionally hurt child is to eliminate the threat of online abuse.
This can be a hard step to take, being that we live in an increasingly digital world, but it is one of utmost importance. You can start by removing the sources of abuse from the household. That could mean anything from signing out of Facebook to taking your son or daughters cell phone away. Without the presence of technology within their grasp, the effect of the bullying will be greatly diminished.
Now that you have stopped your child from actively being hurt by their harassing abuser, it is time to collect evidence to make sure the bullying stops for the long term. Here are important steps to follow when detailing a case of online abuse.
- As hard as it may be to do so, do not respond to any of the online abuse levied towards your child. Don’t muddy the waters. Merely screenshot, print, or otherwise document the cases of bullying. These documents can be handed off to the police in order to begin an investigation.
- After you have given the police all of the sources of bullying you can find, it is time to report the bully to their cell phone company, internet provider, or the administrator of the website on which their bullying occurred. With any luck, accounts will be locked, phones will be cancelled, and ISPs will be temporarily disconnected.
- If you are able to obtain the true identity of the abuser, then you should report their activity to the school. Assuming that your child and the abuser go to school together, this can be a great way to diffuse a scary confrontation. Your child could be dreading seeing them the morning after their abuse.
For more information and tips on how to deal with cyberbullying, read our article Cyber Bullying Tips.
How You Can Prevent Cyberbullying in The Future
The unfortunate truth is that cyberbullying will never truly go away. With the advent of new technologies, the expansion of their use as part of our everyday life, and the increasing lack of culpability within these online wards, there are fewer and fewer chances of escaping untouched. There are a slew of things that you can do, however, to prevent bullying from becoming a commonplace experience. These tactics will not be popular with your child, but with understanding and patience, they can make a long-lasting impact on their everyday lives.
- Rather than allowing your child a private computer, make them use a computer in the busiest section of your home. This way, their internet use can be heavily monitored, if required.
- Limit aspects of their mobile phones. While the convenience of internet browsing from your cell phone is nice, it also opens the door to increased bullying. Set a limit on their data or disable it completely. Their phone should be for texting, phone calls, and emergencies–not lurking on Facebook.
- Harbor an environment of trust. If your child knows that they can turn to you with the problems they encounter, you will never be blindsided by their hurt. Talk to your child and maintain an open line of communication.
Cyberbullying, like any sort of abuse, is a very serious thing. Children have been driven to suicide out of the pain and frustration they have been dealt by their peers, and you can read about Amanda Todd’s example in our article The Need for Cyberbullying Help. Unfortunately, it seems as if the act of cyberbullying will never truly go away as we are too ingrained in our technologies.
Instead of shielding your child completely from the harms associated with cyberbullying, you should choose to educate them. Follow the aforementioned tips to get a better understanding of the sort of abuse your child may be dealing with so that you can quickly step in to put an end to the ordeal. You can also read our article about Cyber Safety for Kids…Educate! for more insights.