By Ashley Schafer Karcher
For generations, bullying was considered a childhood “rite of passage,” but the old “sticks and stones” saying is no longer true. Modern day technology gives today’s bully a much larger audience for mean-spirited actions.
Bullying is no longer limited to schoolyards; it can happen at home as well as school. Shaming another can now happen, essentially, 24-hours-a-day. Bullied children can feel like they’re getting harassed nonstop. According to The Cyberbullying Research Center, severe, long-term, or frequent online bullying — known as cyberbullying — can leave both victims and bullies at a greater risk for anxiety, depression and other stress-related disorders.
Cyberbullying is defined as the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person. Examples of cyberbullying might include:
• mean text or email messages
• the sharing of embarrassing pictures or videos without consent
• making up and spreading untrue stories via social media
Sometimes cyberbullying can be easy to spot if it takes the form of a harsh or cruel text, tweet, or response to a status update on a social media account. Other acts are less obvious, such as impersonating a victim online, or posting personal information, photos or videos with the intent to hurt or embarrass.
Many children are reluctant to report bullying, making it impossible to know just how many are affected. A recent cyberbullying study conducted by Science Daily found that about one in four teens have been victims of cyberbullying, and about one in six admit to having cyberbullied someone.
Computer technology is an important part of children’s lives today. Therefore, it’s important for parents to respond carefully if their child is being bullied online, and to teach safe internet use.
If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied, the website for the Cyberbullying Research Center has tons of information and suggestions for dealing with it. A few of the many ideas presented there include the following:
• Document. If there is online evidence, save a screenshot.
• Don’t respond. Engaging with a bully usually makes the situation worse and any responses could be circulated online immediately.
• Sign off and block the bully. Get offline and use readily available blocking features.
• Change contact information. If someone is pretending to be your child, change their passwords.
• Report. Most social media companies have a process for reporting harassing and mean behavior. If a classmate is bullying, report it to the school. If the bullying involves threats of physical harm, report it to the police.
• Support. Talk with your child about the experience and help him or her handle the situation in a healthy way.
• Find your support, too. A child’s bullying experience can also be stressful for a parent. Parents should consider finding someone to talk to for support.
Signs of Cyberbullying:
• being emotionally upset during or after using the internet or phone
• being very secretive or protective of one’s digital life
• withdrawal from family members, friends and activities
• avoiding school or group gatherings
• academic decline
• changes in mood, behavior, sleep or appetite
• wanting to stop using the computer or cellphone
• being nervous when receiving an instant message, text or email
• avoiding discussions about computer or cellphone activities
Ashley Schafer Karcher lives in Ocean Springs with her husband and four children.