Relatively speaking, cyberbullying is a new phenomenon. Bullying, however, has been around since the beginning of time. It refers to the tendency some people have to intimidate, harass, stalk, control and sometimes harm other individuals, using a number of methods and tools.
Because of the added convenience of anonymity, the Internet is ideally suited for cyberbullying. Cyberbullying usually occurs among young people, especially students and often in social media environments.
How Does Cyberbullying Affect Children?
According to ViolencePreventionNetworks.com, children who are victims of cyberbullying often display certain symptoms:
- Lack of appetite
- Fear/unwillingness to go to school
- Trouble communicating their fears or anxieties
- Misbehavior as a coping mechanism
- Blaming themselves for the trouble
- Lowered self-esteem/personal confidence
- Becoming less socially active
Cyberbullying isn’t like traditional bullying. For example, girls may exclude other girls from special events and activities as a way to intimidate them or get even with them for some perceived infractions. Boys may lash out with abusive language, sometimes toward total strangers. The victim, wrongly assuming that the cyberbully actually knows them, may then fear for their safety.
Cyberbullies don’t necessarily pose a physical threat (although they may) but can be as harmful/dangerous as those who do. In fact, some children report still feeling sick years after they grow into adulthood.
How are We Handling the Problem Legally?
Unfortunately, laws are catching up with online crimes. In most cases, instances of cyberbullying may be approached using the laws already on the books about bullying and stalking. Such laws, however, are difficult to enforce and may not even be enforced due to lack of reporting.
Cyberbullying, like white collar crime, usually goes unreported, possibly because there is often no clear proof of wrongdoing. Some people think children should handle their own problems, especially with other children. Cyberbullying should not only be reported when it occurs, but it also needs to be taken more seriously.
What Can Parents Do to Prevent Bullying?
You don’t need to keep your kids away from the Internet, put a moat around your house or assume the problem will resolve itself with time. But there are things you can do to prevent cyberbullying:
- Encourage your child to not respond directly to the cyberbully since giving them attention only encourages them to continue their activity. Retaliating may get victims in trouble themselves.
- Report every instance of cyberbullying; authorities may not do much at first, but if the activity continues or involves actual threats, they may interfere, according to SurvivingBullies.org. Keep copies of all written communication sent and received.
- Get professional help for victims of cyberbullying; don’t just assume kids can handle it on their own, states ByParentsforParents.com. Even tough children may not show how strongly they may have been affected, according to StopBullying.gov.
- Educate yourself and your child—knowledge is power!
- Work with local groups, school administrators and legislators to see what new laws need to passed and initiatives need to be implemented locally.
- Never take an online threat lightly.
- Utilize parental controls. According to Slackware.org, satellite packages come with 285 channels, making it difficult to control the content to which children are exposed, unless you utilize those controls. Different sites, like socialshield.com, avira.com and isocialsmart.com provide social media parental controls to help you manage your child’s exposure while online.