Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, frighten, humiliate, trick, expose, or otherwise harm a person in a deliberate and/or repeated manner.
In 1996, the Columbine massacre changed national attitudes on bullying, while the dawn of the Internet forever altered the nature of bullying itself. Like all bullying, cyberbullying cannot be prevented altogether, but it can be limited and contained through awareness, school policy, and parental involvement.
Online bullying or harassment can be especially difficult on two fronts. First, the victim can’t escape it by simply coming home from school or even changing schools. Once an attack has been launched, it can dominate a young person’s life by giving them the perception that it follows them everywhere.
Second, the anonymity that the bully enjoys on the Internet makes him or her difficult to trace by authorities or school officials, leaving the victim without the benefit of even knowing who his or her attacker is.
Consumed by hopelessness that it will never end, young victims of online bullying have resorted to extraordinary acts of desperation, including suicide.
Poor judgment or naiveté in trusting a classmate with images, video, or texts of a sexual nature are among the most serious incidents of cyberbullying — and among the most difficult to contain. There have been countless instances of girls giving racy pictures or videos to boyfriends — and vice versa — only to be betrayed after a breakup.
Once an image is shared, it can jump cell phones and race around an entire school at an astonishing speed, far too fast to be stopped by administrators. Even after humiliation and harassment force the victim to switch schools, the picture often follows not far behind them.
In some states, the perpetrator can be charged with disseminating child pornography, even if he is also a minor or didn’t intend the leak, and face serious, life-altering consequences.
Momentary lapses in content posted on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can also knock down the first domino in a rampage of collective bullying that is difficult to track and stop. The inherent connectivity of social media breeds a digital grapevine that feeds an already rampant rumor mill. Young people have also launched fake accounts for the purpose of attacking another, as well as sending content to make it appear as if it came from the victim.
The two greatest weapons are parental involvement — in both the life of the child and at the school — and strong school policy. The National Crime Prevention Council recommends talking to your kids upfront and honestly, reminding them to never give out their passwords; not to respond to threats or attacks, but to report them right away; and to never write an email or text — and certainly never take a picture — that you wouldn’t mind everyone in your school seeing.
Cyberbullying is damaging, hurtful and common. It is nearly impossible to keep up with the technology of their children. Just like drug use and other early pitfalls, communication is the best deterrent to your child becoming a victim — or perpetrator — of cyberbullying.