What is cyberbullying? What to do about it.

Some people scratched their heads when Monica Lewinsky, of blue dress Clinton-DNA fame, came out swinging against cyberbullying recently. Among other things, they wondered what the heck is “cyberbullying?”

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center says it’s “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers. In short, it’s that cafeteria name calling and bullying in a new guise, ranging from barrages of teasing phone texts to group sites online dedicated to sexually harassing hapless victims.

Cyberbullied youth driven to suicide.

Cyberbullied youth driven to suicide.

What specifically is cyberbullying? 

Because the extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify, it’s smart to use a definition full of specifics. Patti Agatston, PhD— from www.cyberbullyhelp.com—defines cyberbullying as “using the Internet or other digital devices to send or post negative message, images or video clips about others.” Examples might be making fun of someone’s appearance on Instagram, sending nude or revealing photos to classmates, or threatening bodily harm to someone on a Facebook page. 

How is it transmitted?

The meanness and hurt can manifest itself via many channels, including the following: 

cell phones,
chat rooms,
message boards, 
websites,
social media sites,
online gaming sites,
instant messaging, and
e-mail.

Some studies cited by the Cyberbullying Research Center find that about half of all young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying, and ten to twenty percent experience it regularly. Specifically, one in four middle-school and high school children have been affected according to the Center. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 160,000 students stay home from school every day because they are afraid of being bullied. 

What can you do?  

If your child is being cyberbullied, what should you do? Jim Burns, Ph.D. is executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. He suggests the following:

“Create a trusting environment: Open up a dialogue with your teen rather than offering them a monologue. Let your teen know you’re aware of cyberbullying and that if they ever experience it, you are there for support. Be careful not to overdramatize the situation or lecture your child.

Don’t respond to bullies: When you engage with the bully, you only fuel the fire. In addition, your response will often get circulated. It’s a natural urge for your teen to fight back and defend his or her reputation. Teach them to resist the urge. The best thing to do is ignore the bully. Parents should not respond directly to bullies, either.

Report it: Report all cyberbullying to local law enforcement. Cyberbullying is a crime that the authorities are equipped to handle. Take each bullying experience seriously, whether there is a physical threat or not. Sometimes your kids will not want you to report bullying. It’s still the best thing to do. I always suggest that parents remove bullying emails from their child’s computer but save them in case they need to provide evidence to law enforcement.

Don’t assume your kids will tell you: Often, kids feel guilty or ashamed, even when they are the victims of bullying. Some children may not want to admit that they’ve been somewhere forbidden online. Make sure your kids know you won’t judge them and that you just want them to be safe.

Create a media-safe home: Teaching our children how to navigate online media, as well as helping them learn about the complexities and dangers of the web, is an important part of our parenting skill set. Back in the day, it was hard enough to have “the talk” with our kids about sex or drugs, but today it is absolutely paramount that we include the cyberbully talk as well.”

Girl with cell that says "I hate you."

“I hate you.”

These are worth a try. Cyberbullying is different from cafeteria bullying in two important ways: digitization amplifies the hurt bullies can inflict AND it’s almost never a private matter (usually there’s a sizeable audience).