Before the advent of today’s technology, a bully was defined as a person who frightens, hurts, or threatens a smaller and/or weaker person. Cyberbullying has altered this traditional definition because it is a form of bullying that occurs using technology like computers, cell phones, and iPads. Since the bullies don’t have to be physically present, they don’t necessarily have to be physically stronger.
Cyberbullying is particularly difficult to address because it can occur at any time of day, in any location, and no one has to be physically present except the person being bullied. What makes matters worse, a larger number of people can emotionally attack a person at the same time. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat allow many people to continue to add “fuel to the fire” by making negative comments for days on end creating a mob effect.
Bullying can have long lasting psychological effects on a teen that persists into adulthood. Per the American Medical Association, research has shown that persistent bullying can cause sadness, despair and hopelessness that can lead to youth dropping out of school and unleashing their frustration and rage on themselves or others. It can also lead to self-medication via drugs and alcohol, violence, and even suicide. Cyberbullying can be exponentially devastating because of the continuous onslaught of intrusive mean and embarrassing comments and images.
To prevent cyberbullying, it is vital that parents become computer savvy. Many parents avoid learning about the new forms of social media that their children use, but they need to have a working knowledge of these applications. Parents also need to monitor computer and cell phone activity to effectively teach their children how to use technology responsibly.
Cybereducation should start in the home. Parents should teach their children what they should and should not post online and advise them that everything they post will most likely remain permanently in the public domain. Parents should also remind their children that they should not post anything that would be embarrassing to themselves or someone else or post something about another person which is mean, hurtful or threatening.
It’s important for parents to have access and monitor social media accounts from time to time to make sure their children are being responsible. Parents should know their children’s passwords and make them aware that they can and will access their accounts at any time. There are several options to counter cyberbullying. The bully should be blocked on social media and then reported to the social media site. All evidence of the bullying should be saved. The parent can attempt to talk to the bully’s parent if the bully is known. If the issue is not quickly resolved, then the incidents should be reported to the school. It should also be reported to law enforcement if there is a threat of violence or if other illegal activity has occurred online such as the posting of pornographic images, sexting, etc. Often the local police force will have a special cyber unit that deals with issues involving technology.
It is important that teens know that they should tell an adult any time they feel uncomfortable about comments or images they receive online or through their devices. They also need to know that they don’t have to tolerate any form of bullying and that there is a way to end it.