Ijust don’t feel like going- 15-year-old Ella insists as she slams her bedroom door. “Maybe next time. I need to check my email.”
Teenagers will have their moments, but Ella’s mother was becoming concerned. This time it was a movie night she’d had planned a month ago with some friends from school, but Ella had also recently quit band and basketball. “Is this withdrawing behavior? Is she depressed?” she wondered.
Ella’s mother decides to check Facebook to see if there are any clues there. What she finds leaves her shaking: dozens of taunting, demoralizing posts from several kids at Ella’s school and even a few explicit threats.
What Ella has experienced is cyberbullying. According to Cincinnati’s Beech Acres Parenting Center, one in four teens has experienced it, and one in six teens has cyberbullied another teen.
It’s a modern problem that has grown as quickly as the internet itself, making it a relatively new and unique issue that can confuse parents, children and school administration. Most bullying that takes place on school grounds falls under the jurisdiction a school’s conduct code, but cyberbullying isn’t always addressed.
Is it cyberbullying?
Stopcyberbullying.org indicates that cyberbullying is taking place “when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.” If the cyberbullying involves an adult bully, it is considered cyber-stalking or cyber-harassment. Cyberbullying is also distinct from online child-related crimes such as an adult trying to lure a minor. Generally, if a child is feeling targeted over the internet, or a parent notices what they would consider harassing behavior, the issue of cyberbullying needs to be addressed by parents and the school district.
What should parents do?
According to Beech Acres, when parents discover their child is being cyberbullied, they might be tempted to confront the bully or even possibly minimize their behavior. Instead, focus on reassurance. The parenting center recommends telling your child five key things: “I hear you,” “I believe you,” “You are not alone,” “It is not your fault,” and “There are things we can do.”
Talk with your kids about both internet safety and internet etiquette, and limit usage. Don’t introduce too much tech too early. Keep an eye out for typical signs that your child is being bullied, including withdrawing from activities, behavioral changes, academic struggles and episodes of anger or sadness. Also, be sure to check your child’s social media accounts on a regular basis.
What about the bully?
Dr. Sameer Hinduja, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center at Florida Atlantic University (www.cyberbullying.us), says that “kids know when they have hurt someone with their words or actions. They may justify it or rationalize it away, but they know.” He says adults need to motivate kids to do what is right and to “cultivate empathy by helping them fully understand the implications of their actions.”
Schools sometimes need to involve law enforcement in bullying situations. Serious threats to another child can result in criminal charges for the bully.
How should schools respond to cyberbullying cases?
Dr. Hinduja stresses that it is important to condemn the behavior but not the child, while sending a message to the rest of the school community that bullying in any form is wrong. He says school administrators can work with parents “to convey to the student that cyberbullying behaviors are taken seriously and will not be tolerated.”
Apart from responding to individual situations, Hinduja says it is essential to cultivate a positive school climate in general. “Our research demonstrates that students who report a positive climate at school also experience fewer problematic behaviors online,” he explains.
Beyond discipline and strict school policies centered on anti-cyberbullying efforts, a shift in focus can help, too. Hinduja points to a positive trend. “From pledge campaigns, to flash mobs, to anonymous Twitter feeds which compliment random students for being awesome, young people from around the world are spearheading initiatives to really make a difference,” he says. “We need schools to help youth get excited about ways they can harness the capabilities of peer influence and social media to show compassion toward others.”
For more information about Dr. Hinduja’s extensive cyberbullying research including tips for parents and students, visit www.cyberbullying.us. Visit the Safer Schools Ohio website at https://saferschools.ohio.gov/ for specific anti-bullying action plans for parents and schools.