Cyber bullying is almost impossible to escape. In our connected digital age bullies have a new weapon with which to torment their targets. Home sweet home is no longer a sanctuary into which victims of bullying can escape their tormentors. Bullies can now stalk their prey after school hours long after their targets have gone home.
Social isolation, public humiliation and malicious gossip have long been the stock in trade of bullies. With the the advent of modern communications such as email, chat, text messaging and cell phones as well as the ability to publish online on websites, blogs, and social networking sites making their message instantly available to millions, the bully's reach and powers of social manipulation have been increased exponentially.
Parents are well advised to pay close attention to how this new threat can impact their children. We have already seen too many cases of children subjected to a cyber bullying attack who have been so traumatized that they have committed suicide as a direct result.
"Bullycide" is the term that has been used to describe suicides caused by relentless bullying. "Cyberbullycide", to coin a phrase, would describe someone driven to suicide following a cyberbullying attack.
In the book Bullycide In America: Moms speak out about the bullying/suicide connection, compiled by Brenda High, the story of Jeffery Johnston serves as a warning to other parents.
Jeffrey's mother Debbie Johnston writes,
"A bully doesn’t have to be eye
to eye to bully someone. Sometimes he or she gets
into cyberspace, and then there’s no place
to hide from their torment.
With the keyboard as his weapon, the bully violated the sanctity of my home and murdered my child just as surely as if he had crawled through a broken window and choked the life from Jeff with his bare hands. It was not a death that was quick and merciful. It was carried out with lies, rumors and calculated cruelty portioned out day by day.”
Cyber bullies, like any bully, want to feel power and control over their victim. They want to get under their victim's skin. Many kids live and breathe the internet. It is essential to how they see themselves and how they socialize with their peers. The computer is as essential a social tool today as the telephone was decades ago.
This is part of why a cyber bullying attack can be so devastating. Cyber bullies cut to the core of their victim's social life and self image. Targets are faced with threats and intimidation in emails and instant messages, but it is not only fear that the bully can instill over the web.
The potential for public humiliation has been expanded from a target's classmates or school to effectively the entire world, or at least the wired world. Cyberbullies have created websites dedicated to insulting, mocking and humiliating their prey in the most vicious way possible. To be humiliated in front of a classroom of students is bad enough but to be humiliated for the amusement of thousands is more than most kids can bear.
The target becomes the laughing stock for the entire school as word is spread at the speed of light over broadband connections about the latest humiliating website update, blog post or video upload.
It's not good enough anymore for bullies to simply beat up their victims. With digital video becoming ubiquitous beatings are now digitally recorded and uploaded so everyone can have a front row seat and the bloodlust can be enjoyed again and again.
How can cyber bullies be so heartless? Perhaps the internet lends itself to this indifference. Bullies don't have to see their victims or answer for their actions. Like the cowards they are they hide behind their computers and smartphones - behind a veil of anonymity.
Even though the effects of online bullying can be every bit as dangerous as offline bullying, if not more so, you as a parent are even less likely to hear about it happening to your child.
To understand why you have to understand how important access to the internet is for many kids. They will remain silent about cyberbullying because they are afraid if their parents find out they will go off the deep end and cut off access to their computer, internet and/or mobile phone.
Years ago this would be the equivalent of a child who complained of bullying being grounded and losing their telephone privileges! Loss of internet access would be deemed by many kids now to be the cruelest of punishments. Try not to over-react, it is the bully not the victim who should be punished.
The first step is to stop responding to the cyber bully. Do not reply to emails, posts, IM's or text messages. This is what the bully wants. They want you to engage with them. They want to manipulate you into responding.
If you respond in any way that is emotional or lets them know that they are getting to you and are able to make you upset it only encourages the cyber bully.
Remember, bullies often suffer from low self-esteem and they want to feel better about themselves. Instead of doing something positive or succeeding at something or making a new friend a bully has learned to make themselves feel better by controlling, abusing and tearing down others. This gives them a sense of control and power they don't have in their lives. Most bullies are actually quite weak and the same is true of cyber bullies.
That said, bullies can also have very high self-esteem and be socially very popular. Bullying can be used as a means of keeping others compliant out of fear of falling out of the bully's good graces and becoming the next target. This type of bully can be particularly dangerous as they can conscript others in the service of attacking the target du jour.
The target can face an onslaught on numerous fronts from the bully's many cohorts. The target could be swarmed by the bully's minions and not even know who is really pulling the strings behind the scenes. In particularly insidious cases the bully will pretend to be the target's friend.
Regardless of the type of bully or tactics used, if you respond in a way that lets the bully know that you are angry, upset or afraid they will only be happy because they have managed to control your emotional state. Even if you do feel like that don't give the cyber bully the satisfaction and encouragement by letting them know.
It is especially important to not respond emotionally because this could make you send a reply that you might regret later. Messages sent on the internet are almost impossible to take back. If you lash back in anger you could find yourself the one who is being accused of being a cyber bully and the tables could be turned against you.
Bullies are hoping to get you upset so you slip up and make a mistake. Don't send flames and don't get into flame wars. (Flames are nasty, sometimes threatening emails.)
While you should not respond to the bully online (or offline) you should also not delete their messages. That's right, do NOT delete their messages.
Cyber bullies are especially cowardly and like to hide behind the anonymity that the internet gives them. Or does it? Messages sent on the internet are traceable. Make sure to keep all messages as the police will be able to use this information to track down the culprit. Do not delete any messages and save as much information you can about chats, IM's, text messages, blog posts, websites, etc.
This will also help show just how often the attacks take place, at what times and even from which location. Every computer, server and device connected over the (TCP/IP) network has a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. Police along with the cyber bully's ISP (Internet Service Provider) can use this information to trace the bully right to his or her house.
You need to let appropriate authorities know about the cyber bullying or they cannot take corrective action. Cyberbullying is not something you want to ignore. It is your responsibility to report this behavior so the perpetrators can be dealt with.
This helps to not only protect your child but to intervene before the cyber bully harms even more kids. Bullies often behave in a serial fashion attacking multiple victims either at the same time or one after another. Once the high of abusing one victim is over they move to their next prey.
Report abuse to your internet, instant messaging or mobile phone provider.
While some providers may not take swift action it is still important to establish that incidents of cyberbullying are taking place and that it has been recorded as a complaint. This will provide greater impetus for them to take cyberbullying more seriously if further reports are made or others complain about the same person.
Report cyber bullying to the local police.
Let the police know what is happening. Depending on the actions taken by the cyber bully they may have crossed the line. Laws regarding bullying and cyber bullying are finally being passed.
While bullies may have had a free ride up until now they are more and more running into the long arm of the law. Cyber bullying needs to be brought to the attention of the police. Be sure to provide them with as much information as you can. They can then contact the cyber bully's ISP and track them down.
Inform your child's school if cyber bully is a student.
While the school administration may say they have no legal obligation as the bullying is taking place outside of school hours and off school property many schools are adopting code of conduct type contracts with their students and parents.
This allows for schools to take action in such cases where the bullying still impacts on another student while they are at school. Targets of cyberbullying are traumatized and often lose focus on their schoolwork as a direct result of the harassment.
Even if your child's school does not have such a policy they still need to be made aware of the abuse so they can be alerted to potential further bullying that may be taking place while your child is at school.
Above all it is vital to keep up with what is going on in your child's world. More and more a large part of that world involves online activities and communication. You have to ask the same questions about the internet as you do in the real world when it comes to your children. What are they doing and who are they doing it with?
If you need to, take a computer course to understand more about the wired world. Many kids know far more than their parents about computers and they can keep you in the dark, only letting you know what they want you to know.
Letting your kids spend countless hours on the internet cloistered away in their bedroom, away from prying eyes and interruptions from mom and dad is not recommended. Keep the computer in a common area. Talk with them about what they are doing and with whom they are communicating.
Pay close attention to your kids. Are they acting strangely? Are there unexplained pictures or odd messages? Are they having trouble sleeping or falling behind at school? Do they seem depressed or more aggressive? Are they being evasive and not want you to know who they are talking to or do they close windows on their computer screen whenever you come near. Don't ignore what your parenting "spider senses" are telling you. If you think something is wrong don't wait until it is too late.
Cyber bulling can be every bit as dangerous as bullying; more so in some cases. Awareness is the key. Keep open communication lines with your children so they will feel comfortable enough to tell you. They need to know that cyber bullying is not their fault. It is not because of something wrong with them. The fault and the problem both lay with the cyber bully.
For further reading about cyber bullying: