According to the website, http://www.kidshealth.org, “Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person.” Furthermore they go on to say that it can only occur when the communication is between two or more minors.
This new 21st century problem is something our society is going to have to learn how to deal with in the coming years. It is a very disturbing trend in our youth culture today, one that deserves our fullest attention. Cyber-bullying can be as harmful to children as identify theft is to adults, more so in some instances.
This new type of bullying is different than anything our society has encountered before. Child psychologists say that it is not the same as normal school yard bullying and should not be treated as such. The cited reason for that is normal school yard bullying is motivated by different factors that are not present in a cyber-setting. According to http://www.stopocyberbullying.org, cyber bullying can turn deadly where either one child ends the life of another or the bullying leads to suicide. This reason alone makes it far more dangerous than normal bullying. In normal child hood bullying kids are usually asserting their status and trying to attract attention.
In the digital age things are different, motivations can be varied and difficult to pin-point. Some children see the apparent anonymity of the internet as an excuse to lash out in ways they would not normally do in a face to face situation. Other ways this behavior can be considered harmful is when students impersonate another and post hateful or harmful words in their name which can draw unwanted attention to the victim. Like identity theft, this can have damaging effects that could take the victim years to straighten out.
So what are some examples of cyber bullying? The simplest form is the sending of hateful and discriminatory messages either in a text or an IM. Other methods include posting pictures of a person without their permission either to embarrass or in some ways opening them up to be targets of predators. What makes this more dangerous than simple name calling is the stuff that is posted to the internet is available in some form or another forever.
In a school yard name calling match the children will throw insults back and forth, asserting their status amongst their peers. Once the session is over the children will grow up and normally they will forget about the incidents and not speak of them again. However in the case of cyber bullying once it is posted to the net it could conceivably be available for anyone in the world for years to come. Some other examples that are more dangerous are posting intimate details of their interpersonal lives, as well as sending floods of text messages to the victim’s phone with the intention of causing the child’s bill to go up and get their parents angry at them.
Just like we are taught to protect our personal identity and confidential information, we need to teach children to protect themselves online. One way parents can protect their kids is to make sure that they understand not to join in chat groups that are not supervised and moderated by adults. Other steps parents can take is by monitoring what their children do online, placing blocks and limits on cell phone usage, and using software to keep track of what they do online.
Another solution that is often overlooked is the simplest, talking to our children and discovering why it is they are lashing out against other individuals. Children are reflections of their parents and their surroundings so if a child is acting out in anyway, it is the responsibility of their parents and teachers to talk to them and find out what is bothering them.
What can we do as a society to prevent this from happening? For starters we can do more to educate parents of the dangers of the internet and posting personally identifying information to the web. Also we need to educate children in the reasons why these acts are harmful and dangerous and teach them how to hand the situations with dignity.
One of the solutions to fighting cyber-bullying is for schools to get involved. There are inherent problems to this though because schools have limited authority outside school hours. The other problem that arises when schools try to get involved is because parents could raise privacy issues or even free speech issues as well. These problems are what make dealing with the issues of cyber-bully especially challenging in a society that puts so much emphasis and value on personal liberty and individuality.
Cyber-bullying needs to be addressed on multiple levels not just the individual’s involved but our society as a whole needs to become more aware of the issues.