Cyber-bullying: The Digital Sticks and Stones

A close friend recently told me a story that was a real wake-up call for me.  A couple of weeks ago she found her daughter shaking and curled up into a little ball crying her heart out. When she asked her what was wrong, she just shook her head and wouldn’t tell her. Finally, after intervention by a sibling, she finally opened up. It turns out that she had been subjected to cyber-bullying, and she was terrified of going back to school. A girl from her grade sent her an Instagram message threatening to beat her up at school.They previously experienced trouble with this particular girl and knew that she was very capable of doing what she was threatening to do.

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What is Cyber-bullying?

Cyber-bullying is online harassment. It’s the use of technology to threaten, harm or embarrass another person and it’s a growing problem. It’s typically done through cell phones via text messages or direct messages through social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Sometimes a fake account, web page or online identity is created with the sole purpose to harass and bully. Cyber-bullying is done deliberately and repeatedly with the intention of harming another person. The target might not even know who the bully is as online bullying creates an opportunity to be anonymous. Since bullying is no longer restricted to the playground or the neighborhood, the harassment can be 24 hours a day. Picked-on children often exist in a constant state of fear, and it can have severe long term effects on the child.

Facts On Cyber-bullying

  • More youths experience cyber-bullying on Instagram (42%) with Facebook being a close second at 37% and Snapchat ranking third at 31%

  • Girls are more likely to be cyber-bullied than boys

  • Only 60% of those who have experienced cyber-bullying told an adult (up from 40% of last year)

  • Only 25% of teens who experience cyber-bullying reported having a face-to-face confrontation with someone

  • 71% of today’s younger generation are worried about Cyber-bullying

  • 87% of teens have witness cyber-bullying

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Bullying happens every day and any child with a laptop, iPad or cell phone is at risk. As a parent, it’s important to have a conversation about cyber-bullying with your child and how best to prevent it. It’s important to encourage your child not to respond to the bullying as it will only exacerbate the problem. Should your child become subject to it, make sure you take screenshots of what has been sent, then block the sender and notify the principal of the school. Many schools have strict protocols against bullying and the punishment for cyber-bullies can include suspension from school, being kicked off of sports teams, and certain types of cyber-bullying are even considered crimes.

In my friend’s case, she was smart enough to take a screenshot of the Instagram message that was sent and set up a meeting with the principal at her daughter’s school. This school has a strict protocol against any kind of bullying, and the incident was taken very seriously. The girl in question was brought to the office and her parents were asked to be there as well. My friend’s daughter had a hall teacher watch her the entire day in between classes, and she also took her to her bus after school. The girl in question claimed her account had been hacked and that someone else had sent the message. She was reprimanded by her parents and the school, and she gave my friend’s daughter an apology. Thankfully they have not had any further incidents to date.

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It was a good lesson for me as an adult and parent, and one that I thought was worth sharing. It’s not always easy to know when to step in. Kids these days use technology differently than we do. They play games, connect with their friends, watch YouTube videos, and are constantly on their devices. Their knowledge of the digital world can seem intimidating for some parents. In my case, I had a good talk with my kids about cyber-bullying and what to do in case it happens. We also agreed that I must be a ‘friend’ on all their social platforms although I was not allowed to comment (I guess I am not hip enough), and that under no circumstances would anyone post any indecent photos of themselves or anything that could be harmful to someone else. And this includes their ‘spam’ accounts.  Virtually every teenager I know has multiple accounts on Snapchat and Instagram, and parents should be monitoring those as well. I also now have the right to go through their devices at any given time to make sure there are no ‘misunderstandings’.

I remember when my kids were little. I was so pleased to get a few minutes of peace when they were engaged on their Leapster device (pre iPad tablet for kids in case you are wondering).  But of course this was the beginning of digital dependence for them, and it’s starting earlier and earlier. Unfortunately their use of devices goes way beyond learning how to spell ‘c-a-t’ and is the conduit for how they interact socially.  This incident also showed me how this is yet another distraction for teachers and school administrators in their efforts to teach our kids. It’s a reality in today’s world, but parents need to challenge themselves to be more involved and understand this world.

My kids will continue to cringe every time I post on Snapchat and give me a stern lecture if I comment on their post.  I’m definitely OK with that; it’s a small price to pay for being a part of their digital world.

Brit BishopComment