A Guide to Cyber Bullying for Parents, Children, and Teachers

A Guide to Cyber Bullying for Parents, Students, and Teachers

Cyber bullying is an issue that has progressively received more coverage and awareness as people, and especially children, spend increasingly more of their lives online. It’s defined as the use of technology to harass, threaten or embarrass other people. Like its ancestral cousin bullying, it’s hard to pin down, or combat. In-person bullying is riskier than cyber bullying, which can often be done anonymously, or through a misleading avatar. It’s easier to bully people when you don’t have to look at them, and an extremely insidious form of cyber bullying, passing around digital information (whether it be texts, pictures or videos aimed at humiliating others) has made bullying more accessible for people who would normally lack the confidence, brutality, articulation and ability to bully others. In this guide we’ll take a look at what parents, children and teachers can do to recognize, avoid, prevent and deter cyber bullying.

DitchTheLabel.org reported that 7 out of 10 young people have been victims of cyber bullying

We’ve come too far to continue societal trends that have treated bullying as an expected and tolerated part of life. There’s too much preventable suffering to look the other way on this. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2015 over 15% of high school students were cyber bullied. To make matters worse, cyber bullying seems to have a correlation with in-person bullying, with 90% of teens who reported being cyber bullied saying they were also bullied offline that year. DitchTheLabel.org reported that 7 out of 10 young people have been victims of cyber bullying. Students of oppressed identities like racial minorities, LGBTQ students and disabled students are disproportionately bullied, and there’s a strong association between bullying and suicidal behaviors. Other stats show that cyber bullying is becoming an increasingly large problem. The amount of people who have experienced cyber bullying doubled between 2007 and 2016, going from 18% to 34%, according to Patching and Hinduja, 2016.

The news isn’t all gloomy, because education and directly addressing cyber bullying has been shown as a useful deterrent on the behavior. Because cyber bullying often happens away from school, or away from adults in general, involving as many authority figures in fighting against it is crucial to diminishing its power. Teachers can often feel like they have little knowledge about cyber bullying, or that it isn’t really part of the classroom. But cyber bullying leaks into the classroom, and can lead to immense fear of school, and damage a child’s scholastic ability and interest. In some ways, teachers can approach cyber bullying like they would any subject: expose, educate and enforce standards that include students and involve them in efforts to treat each other respectfully, and stand up to those who don’t.

Cyber Bullying Guide for Parents

Parents are often the closest people to cyber bullies and the cyber bullied. They control access to the Internet, have ample opportunities to set anti-bullying examples, but can neglect or directly enable or create cyber bullying behavior depending on their example, behavior, and what they allow their children to be exposed to/do in the digital world. Sometimes it can feel like there’s nothing to do about your children’s online lives, but that’s not true. There are a number of technological tools that can curtail the online activity of children, and parents should be ready to reexamine many aspects of that activity.

When parents discuss the actual tolls of cyber bullying with their kids, they can dismantle what is often portrayed as a mostly harmless, unavoidable part of growing up, and expose it for what it is: destructive, anti-social behavior that can lead to serious consequences both for the bully and the bullied.

Parents should carefully consider what their children are exposed to. Are they being bullied by family members, neighbors, friends? Is there violent trauma they’ve experienced, or are they consuming media that reinforces cyber bullying behavior? Where is the home computer? Is it in a place that can be monitored? Parents can support their children, and make them feel comfortable sharing when they’ve been the victim of cyber bullying. They can also make it clear that this is a toxic, terrible behavior and talk about the consequences of engaging in it. Cyber bullying can easily cross the line into criminal territory, which is important for parents to address. The psychological damage it can do often goes overlooked, especially in pre-adolescent, adolescent and post-adolescent social environments. When parents discuss the actual tolls of cyber bullying with their kids, they can dismantle what is often portrayed as a mostly harmless, unavoidable part of growing up, and expose it for what it is: destructive, anti-social behavior that can lead to serious consequences both for the bully and the bullied. Some resources parents can check out include the American Psychological Association, which offers advice on how to prevent bullying, respond to it, and has a section specifically dedicated to cyber bullying. Another great resource is CyberBullyHelp, which offers advice from leading cyber bullying experts Robin Kowakski, Susan Limber and Patti Agatson.

Cyber Bullying Guide for Kids and Students

Kids are most often the victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying. They also encounter it most frequently, seeing it happen or be done by others. Witnessing cyber bullying, and feeling powerless to do anything about it for whatever reason can be very damaging too. First and foremost, kids should be reminded that speaking up about cyber bullying is a great way to combat it. Talking to a parent, teacher or responsible adult about what’s going on can feel scary, or embarrassing, but cyber bullying is a problem no one can deal with alone. The shame of being cyber bullied can lead to silence, and a culture of silence encourages the behavior to continue. Recording cyber bullying is a good way to identify it, and maintain evidence that can be shared. Using digital information against cyber bullies is a great way to beat them at their own game. Blocking and reporting cyber bullying on social media networks also sets a standard that becomes self-enforcing, once cyber bullies realize their behavior won’t be tolerated. It’s important to not bow to the terms cyber bullies operate in. That means not responding to cyber bullying with threats, or responsive bullying of any kind. Remember that giving out your personal information on websites can be used by cyber bullies, and often enhancing and encouraging online privacy is a great way to avoid cyber bullying. Doxing, or the act of attacking or blackmailing another online with personal information, is often enabled by information that has been saved online on old social media profiles, games, or sites you might be a member of. Keep this in mind when releasing personal information attached to your name online.

While it may be hard to sympathize with a bully, being able to understand where the behavior comes from is a great way to help fight against it, and remind yourself that bullying is a cycle, and you can choose not to participate in it. As hard as it may be, seeing a situation from a bullies perspective can help deflate the situation immediately.

Another thing to remember is that cyber bullies are often the product of longterm, entrenched unhappiness, insecurity or abuse that the cyber bully has received. While it may be hard to sympathize with a bully, being able to understand where the behavior comes from is a great way to help fight against it, and remind yourself that bullying is a cycle, and you can choose not to participate in it. As hard as it may be, seeing a situation from a bullies perspective can help deflate the situation immediately. And if you’re not the target of cyber bullying, but know someone who is, speaking out against it, or in support of the victim is a great way to smash cyber bullying. Some resources for kids include the It Gets Better Project, which contains advice and support specifically for LBTQ youth. Another great source of anti-bullying material is StopBullying,gov which offers a list of government resources on bullying and cyber bullying. It has specific information on how to respond to bullying as well. Another great resource for understanding bullying and recognizing it’s prevalence and defeating stigmas around it is the work of author Tracy Ludwig. She’s written several children’s books on the topic, including My Secret Bully, Trouble Talk, Too Perfect, and Confessions of a Former Bully. By engaging with content that directly addresses bullying, kids and their families can address these painful issues with some distance and objectivity that will help analysis on defeating these problems.

Cyber Bullying Guide for Teachers

Teachers are in a difficult role in regards to cyber bullying. There’s only so much involvement they can have in the online lives of their students, and separating rumors and whispers from hard information about cyber bullying going on in and out of school can be extremely challenging. At the same time, teachers can be gatekeepers that see the cutthroat environment children socialize in in a way students and parents don’t. Sometimes, a teacher can be the only person a student can trust to believe them about what they’re going through, whether it’s cyber bullying, or abuse that is leading to it. Teachers can prevent cyber bullying by creating an environment in class that values support, honesty and leaves no room for predatory behavior. Talking to students about this problem, and encouraging them to come forward with their experiences lets them know their voices and pain are real, and they matter. When students are being cyber bullied, they can feel extremely isolated. Sometimes just knowing there are people that support them and care about what they’re going through can embolden them to speak out, and create a climate of communal intolerance for cyber bullying. Teachers can also involve the administration, after school resources, the community and local authorities to marshal anti-bullying contingents throughout their schools and societies. Teachers should always deal with cyber bullying in a way that is private and decisive. Publicly shaming perpetrators or victims can often lead to more cyber bullying, and a fear of coming forward about it. At all times teachers should move to diffuse cyber bullying situations and handle them in a way that doesn’t escalate drama. Teachers should also be clear with themselves that any ongoing cyber bullying, especially if it involves violence, extortion or sexually explicit material, must be reported to and handled with the school’s administration, or outside authorities. Teachers should also make use of CyberBullyHelp, which has professional development resources specifically for school staff on cyber bullying. Seattle’s public schools have created a cyber bullying curriculum that teachers can use, which can be found here. Teachers might also want to peruse the Cyberbullying Research Center, which has important stats, message boards and publications aimed at helping educators learn about cyber bullying, including how to notice and handle it.

Another excellent resource for teachers is the Cyber Safety Campaign, which was created by Boston Public Schools. It has downloadable classroom resources on cyber bullying and internet use. Much of its content was created by Boston students, who have more experience with cyber bullying than anyone. Another outstanding resource for teachers and schools is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, one of the oldest resources aimed at helping schools stop bullying and violence against young people. Working with students to understand cyber bullying and learn about its manifestations and how it affects their lives is instrumental in an educators efforts to prevent it.

Cyber Bullying Legal Protections

States handle cyber bullying differently, but all address it legally in one way or another. 42 states have both laws (in state education codes and elsewhere) and model policies (which offer substantive guidance to districts and schools) on cyber bullying. 8 states have laws only, but no guidance policy. Unfortunately, there are no current federal laws which specifically deal with bullying. However, when bullying is based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion, bullying overlaps with legal definitions of harassment and schools are required to deal with it. Some civil rights laws enforced by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice pertain to bullying, including Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Much more needs to be done to legally combat cyber bullying, but through awareness and a strong foundational knowledge of the current bullying legal landscape, we can start to make tangible changes to how cyber bullying is perceived, undertaken and dealt with.