Young people are using the Internet more than ever and most have Internet access from home. For many children, the Internet isn’t simply a convenient way to research or a fun after school activity – it’s a big part of their social life. Emailing, instant messaging, text messaging and chatting with friends are children’s most common online activities, after studying and playing games. More and more teens are frequenting social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. This electronic forum has not only given sexual predators unprecedented access to our children, it has become a new, incredibly potent and potentially toxic, method of spreading schoolyard gossip, hateful statements, lies, threats and harassment.
Cyber bullying is highly varied and hard to define. At it’s core, it is sending or posting derogatory or hateful material on the Internet or through cell phones or emails, with the intent to harm another. Cyber bullying can be defamatory to a group, a team, a race or target a single victim. Bullies employ any or all cyber communications, including posts to social networking sites, chat rooms, email, instant messaging and blogs, to harass, threaten, spread lies or distribute embarrassing pictures. The Internet gives bullies a worldwide audience for taunting their victims while maintaining some anonymity. Cyber bullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users, but most often they do know their victims.
Cyber bullying can take different forms:
Online fights using electronic messages with angry and vulgar language.
Repeatedly sending nasty, mean, and insulting messages via e-mail, instant messages or text messages.
“Dissing” someone online. Sending or posting gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships. This includes creating websites to make fun of another person such as a classmate or teacher and using websites to rate peers as prettiest, ugliest, etc.
Pretending to be someone else and sending or posting material to get that person in trouble or danger or to damage that person’s reputation or friendships.
Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information or images online or sending it to others.
Talking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information, then sharing it online or sending it to others.
Intentionally and cruelly excluding someone from an online group.
- Cyber Stalking
Repeated, intense harassment and denigration that includes threats or creates significant fear.
Both boys and girls sometimes bully online and just as in face-to-face bullying, tend to do so in different ways. Boys more commonly bully by sending messages of a sexual nature or by threatening to fight or hurt someone. Girls more often bully by spreading rumors or sending messages that make fun of someone or exclude other. They also tell secrets.
Cyber bullying is no joke, although it often starts that way. Because of the vast reach of the Internet, it has far greater impact and can cause much more emotional damage than the same statements scrawled in alleys or on bathroom walls. Damaging words and pictures once posted are nearly impossible to remove. Cyber bullying messages often contain threats of violence, which can constitute a crime. Violent threats and inflammatory statements in cyberspace can turn into real world attacks.
The Effects of Cyber bullying
Victims of cyber bullying may experience many of the same effects as children who are bullied in person, such as a drop in grades, low self-esteem, a change in interests, or depression. However cyber bullying can seem more extreme to its victims because of several factors:
- Occurs in children’s home. Being bullied at home can take away the place children feel most safe.
- Can be harsher. Often kids say things online that they wouldn’t say in person, mainly because they can’t see the other person’s reaction.
- Far reaching. Kids can send emails making fun of someone to their entire class or school with a few clicks, or post them on a website for the whole world to see.
- Anonymity. Cyber bullies often hide behind screen names and email addresses that don’t identify who they are. Not knowing who is responsible for bullying messages can add to a victim’s insecurity.
- May seem inescapable. It may seem easy to get away from a cyber bully-just get offline-but for some kids not going online takes away one of the major places they socialize.
Cyber bullying can be a complicated issue, especially for adults who are not as familiar with using the Internet, instant messenger, or chat rooms as kids. But like more typical forms of bullying, it can be prevented when kids know how to protect themselves and parents are available to help.
What Parents Can Do To
- Keep your home computer in a busy area of the house.
- Set up email and chat accounts with your children. Make sure that you know their screen names and passwords and that they don’t include any personal information in their online profiles.
- Regularly go over their instant messenger “buddy list” with them. Ask who each person is and how your child knows him/her.
- Print this list of commonly used acronyms in instant messenger, text messaging and chat rooms from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and post it by your computer.
- Talk to your kids about the issue and teach them things that will help prevent them from being a victim of Cyber bullying.
- Talk to teens about what they are doing on the Internet, what sites they visit and who they chat with.
- Tell them to never give out personal information online, whether in instant message profiles, chat rooms, blogs, or personal websites.
- Tell your children that you won’t blame them if they are cyber bullied. Emphasize that you won’t take away their computer privileges – this is the main reason kids don’t tell adults when they are cyber bullied.
- If the cyber bully attends the same school, notify administrators and school resource officers or school security.
- If the cyber bullying involves threats of violence, coercion or intimidation, call the police.
- If a Web site is defaming or mocking a person or group, contact your ISP and inform police to get the Web site removed.
- File a complaint with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or cell phone company about any cyber bullying messages.
What Kids Need to Know
- Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your classmates to see, even in email.
- Never tell anyone but your parents your password, even friends.
- Keep a record of any rude and harassing emails, text messages or postings, but do not respond. Show it to an adult.
- Don’t send message when you’re angry. Before clicking “send,” ask yourself how you would feel if you received the message.
- Help kids who are bullied online by not joining in and showing bullying messages to an adult.
- Always be as polite online as you are in person.
Stop Cyber Bullying (www.NCPC.org Web Site)
View information and videos that you can share with your children and students at www.netsmartz.org