These days, lots of children and teens have easy access to an Internet connection, whether it be by computer, tablet, or smartphone. Parents assume that their children use the Internet to stay in touch with friends, play games, and even complete homework assignments. What many parents don’t realize, however, is that 70% of children report that they’ve witnessed online bullying. Furthermore, more than 40% of children and teens report that they’ve been the victim of Internet bullying at least once in their lives (Internet bullying, what the consequences of it are, and how it can be prevented. So who is the internet bully?

What is Internet Bullying?

Internet bullying (also referred to as cyberbullying) entails any act of communication over the Internet directed at a person to make him or her feel bad about him or herself. This is a broad definition, sure, but that’s because cyberbullying can take on so many forms. It’s easier to understand what constitutes an Internet bully by exploring some specific examples.

These days, lots of children and teens have a Facebook or other social media page. These pages allow for (mostly) public comments on other people’s profiles and pictures. Most social media websites also have a medium for real-time communication, such as a messenger service. Cyberbullying, then, can take the form of offensive Facebook comments on one’s public page or even a direct message from the bully to the victim. Some bullies will also comment on victims’ pictures, telling them that they look ugly or fat.

Cyberbullying isn’t always publicly visible, though. Some Internet bullies try to avoid being caught by contacting the victim directly through e-mail or instant messages. From there, the bully can say whatever derogatory comments he or she wants. The problem with this is that many children who are privately bullied online don’t tell anybody about it because they want to avoid further ridicule. Furthermore, some victims don’t believe that cyberbullying is “real” bullying, and thus think that they have no choice but to suck it up and deal with it.

Consequences of Internet Bullying

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. These days, many schools have policies regarding cyberbullying. And these policies don’t just apply on school grounds. In fact, an increasing number of schools have it written into their codes of conduct that students who engage in cyberbullying–whether it be on school property or elsewhere–can be subject to disciplinary action in the form of detention, suspension, or even expulsion. In this sense, Internet bullying is taken very seriously.

On top of school regulations and policies against cyberbullying, there are also some Internet bullying laws in place in many states across the country that enable legal action to be taken against cyber bullies–regardless of age.

For example, the state of Michigan has both policies and laws against Internet bullying. Known as “Matt’s Safe Schools Law,” this particular law protects victims of all ages against Internet bullying and requires that schools take certain actions against Internet bullies. Many other states have followed suit with similar laws, although some have only “policies” in place that must be opted into by school districts and therefore aren’t required. Only time will tell whether or not this will change, but with recent publicity regarding specific instances of online bullying, it’s predicted that states and schools alike will only become more and more strict when it comes to handling cases of cyberbullying.

Dealing with Cyberbullying

The best way for anybody to handle cyberbullying is to prevent it in the first place. In some cases, this may be as easy as controlling one’s privacy settings on social media websites so that bullies don’t have access to one’s profile. This may mean only adding people to one’s “friends” list that can be trusted or even blocking people that are known bullies from having access to one’s profile. These days, all social media sites have customizable privacy settings that can make it more difficult for a cyberbully to reach a victim.

However, it’s not always possible to prevent cyberbullying. All it takes is for a bully to find out a victim’s e-mail address or instant message name to bombard them with verbally abusive comments. At this point, all victims are encouraged to report the incident, no matter how minor it may seem.

Specifically, if the incident occurs on school grounds, it’s important to see a teacher, principal, or other trusted member of the school staff immediately. If possible, keep a copy of the messages sent from the bully so that they can be shown to the staff member. Unfortunately, without proof of the incident, there may not be a whole lot that school personnel can do. Even if the incident happens outside of school grounds, taking a screenshot of the message or even printing out a transcript of the conversation can be helpful for future action.

Aside from notifying school staff, the victim’s parents or guardians should also be notified of the incident. Parents should know how to properly react to a bullying situation. Oftentimes, the best way to handle it is to contact the parents of the Internet bully. More than likely, they don’t know what the bullying is going on and will address the situation to prevent it from happening again. However, it’s still always a good idea for parents to present copies of the conversation or bullying that occurred so that the bully’s parents can see them for themselves.

In some cases, seeking help from a school staff member or the bully’s parent may not be enough to resolve the situation. If the bullying continues to happen, it may actually be necessary to seek enforcement from the local police department. Unfortunately, a police officer will only be able to do anything about the bullying situation if the victim lives in a state that has specific laws against cyberbullying (fortunately, most states these days do have these laws in place, as addressed earlier in this article).

Once reported to a police officer, he or she will be able to write an official report, which will serve as documentation of the incident. It’s also a good idea to surrender proof of the incident to the police officer at this time. Depending on the severity of the comments, police action may be taken against the bully. This is especially true in bullying situations where physical threats or other threats of violence are made to the victim. These must always be taken seriously.

The Bottom Line

While cyberbullying, in previous years, wasn’t taken nearly as seriously as in-person bullying, the fact remains that it can have the same negative effects on its victims. Those who are constantly subjected to cyberbullying may become depressed, lose confidence, suffer from low self-esteem, and suffer from overall poor quality of life. Furthermore, since most victims of cyberbullying are children and teens, it’s especially important to take instances of it seriously. After all, children and teens are the most emotionally vulnerable; they’re constantly impacted and influenced by their peers.

All parents should do their best to monitor what their children are doing online. In some cases, this may even mean installing monitoring software on the family computer or even setting up a family e-mail account so that messages don’t reach children without their parents or guardians also having access to them.

Furthermore, parents should never assume that their own children aren’t Internet bullies themselves. Unfortunately, many parents make the assumption that their children know how to behave online, but the fact is that children and teens are actually more likely to bully others online because of the anonymous and disconnected nature of the online conversation.

Any parent who finds evidence of their children being online bullies should take matters into their own hands immediately. This should be done by having a stern talk with the child about the severity of online bullying and issuing punishment as necessary. It is also important to contact the parents or guardians of the victim’s child to let them know that the situation is being addressed. Finally, it may be necessary to speak with school staff so that the children can be watched during school hours to ensure that the online bullying hasn’t transformed into in-person bullying.

Overall, cyberbullying is something that’s being cracked down on across the nation. However, it’s still quite common. This is why it’s so important for children, teens, parents, and school officials alike to understand the severity of cyberbullying, how to prevent it, and how to react to it. This way, the Internet can become a safer place for children and teens. Furthermore, schools across the country must continue not only implementing but enforcing their zero tolerance policies when it comes to bullying in any form–whether it be online or on the playground.