Cyber Bullying Prevention and Intervention

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What is cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying is a relatively new — yet potentially very harmful — phenomenon in which youth use technology such as computers or cell phones to harass, threaten, humiliate or otherwise hassle their peers. It is officially defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J., 2009).

Cyber bullying can involve:

  • Sending mean, vulgar or threatening messages or images by computer or phone.
  • Posting sensitive, private information and/or false information about another person online.
  • Pretending to be someone else in order to make a person look bad.
  • Intentionally excluding someone from an online group.

Examples of cyber bullying include sending mean emails or text messages, spreading rumors or private information via texts or the internet, using social networking sites to make fun of others, and posting embarrassing pictures or videos of others online.

In many ways, cyber bullying can be worse, more harmful, and harder to stop than traditional bullying. It can happen during or outside of school hours, and it is less visible to school officials. Images and messages can be quickly distributed by cyber bullies to a wide audience. Additionally, cyber bullying can often be perpetrated by an anonymous offender, making it difficult to pinpoint the origin and stop it.

Who gets bullied?

It is estimated that nearly 30% of students are involved in bullying — as victims, perpetrators or both. Studies have found that 15 to 25% of children and youth in the U.S. are bullied and 15 to 20% bully others. Forty-two percent of children and youth have said they have been bullied while online.

Children and youth who are overweight, gay (or perceived to be gay) or have disabilities are up to 63% more likely to be bullied than are other children.

How can I prevent my child from becoming involved in cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying is a different kind of bullying in that your child can be the perpetrator or the victim in your own home. Following is a list of some precautions you can take to minimize the chances of your child becoming a cyber bully or a victim of cyber bullying.

  • Set clear expectations with your child.
    • Outline your expectations for reasonable online behavior and explain how technology is meant to be used. Be very clear that cyber bullying will not be tolerated and that there will be consequences if you discover your child has been treating people poorly using technology.
    • Talk specifically with your child about cyber bullying and encourage him or her to come to you if he or she receives threatening or otherwise disturbing messages via the internet or cell phone. Tell your child that you will not take the technology away if he or she confides in you about being bullied.
  • Keep an eye on your child’s online activities.
    • Keep computers and other web tools in a common area of the house and out of children’s and youth’s bedrooms.
    • Make your child aware that while you respect his or her privacy, his or her safety is your main concern. Tell your child that if you suspect something is wrong, you may review his or her text messages, emails or social networking sites.
    • You may want to consider installing parental control filtering or monitoring technologies. However, do not rely solely on them. It’s best to communicate openly and honestly with your child about your concerns.

What are some warning signs that indicate my child is being cyber bullied?

Even with a great amount of vigilance, it’s not possible for you to watch your child 24 hours a day. Due to the accessibility of cyber bullying, your child may be cyber bullied even if you’ve taken the steps described above to prevent it. If your child is acting differently, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Open communication between you and your child is crucial, but if you observe some of the following behaviors in your child, you may have reason to suspect that he or she might be the victim of cyber bullying:

  • Appears to be angry, depressed or frustrated after using the computer or other electronic devices.
  • Either unexpectedly stops using the computer or other electronic devices or displays an acute increase in use.
  • Appears uneasy about going to school or to social events.
  • Avoids discussions about what he or she is doing on the computer or other electronic devices.
  • Becomes abnormally withdrawn from usual friends and family members.

What should I do if my child is being cyber bullied?

  • Assess how the bullying is impacting your child, and seek therapeutic or emergency help if necessary.
  • Communicate to your child that he or she is not to blame and that you love your child for who he or she is.
  • Talk with your child about the steps he or she can take to protect himself or herself, both emotionally and physically.
  • Involve the police if the bullying is (or you suspect it might become) criminal. Statutes vary from state to state, but here are some good guidelines of what could be considered criminal:
    • Threats of violence
    • Extortion
    • Obscene or harassing phone calls or text messages
    • Harassment, stalking or hate crimes
    • Child pornography
    • Sexual exploitation
    • Taking a photo image of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy
  • Encourage your child not to respond to the cyber bullying.
  • Save the messages or photos as evidence.
  • Try to find out who the cyber bully is. If the bully is anonymous, your internet service provider may be able to help.
  • Report the bullying to your child’s school. School officials may or may not be able to intervene, but at the very least, administrators can watch for face-to-face bullying that might accompany the cyber bullying.
  • Consider contacting the bully’s parents. They may respond well and stop the bullying, or they may respond poorly. Use your best judgment, and approach the situation with caution.
  • In extreme cases of cyber bullying, consider contacting an attorney.
  • Encourage your child to take part in extracurricular activities that highlight his or her strengths and that make your child feel safe, special and accepted.
  • Seek out positive adult mentors (e.g., extended family members, teachers, coaches, volunteers, etc.) who your child can relate to.

What are some warning signs that indicate my child may be cyber bullying others?

Children who normally wouldn’t become traditional bullies (e.g., shy or introverted children) can be more easily drawn into cyber bullying because of its semi-anonymous nature. If you observe the following signs in your child, you may want to closely monitor his or her computer or cell phone access and have a serious conversation with him or her:

  • Increasingly demonstrates cruelty to others, including people and/or animals.
  • Is very secretive about his or her online activities and avoids discussions about what he or she is doing on the computer or other electronic devices.
  • Quickly switches screens or closes programs when you walk by.
  • Uses the computer or other electronic devices late at night.
  • Gets unusually upset if he or she can’t use the computer or other electronic devices.
  • Uses multiple online accounts or an account that is not his or her own.

What do I do if my child is a cyber bully?

Discovering that your child is a cyber bully can be worrisome. However, the good news is that you are aware of what’s going on and you want to stop it. Here are some ideas for what you should do if your child is cyber bullying others:

  • Remember that children who bully others do so because they might also have been a victim of some type of bullying or other trauma in the past. Talking with your child about why he or she is cyber bullying is an important part of stopping the behavior.
  • Explain to your child that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.
  • Explain the severity of your child’s actions, and ask how he or she would feel if the behavior was reported to law enforcement, school or other authorities, or if he or she was on the receiving end of the bullying.
  • As a family, begin to think of ways that your child can repair the harm that he or she has caused to the victim, the victim’s loved ones, and/or the community.
  • Monitor internet and phone activities, or take them away completely, if necessary.
  • Share your concerns with your child’s teacher, coach, counselor and other important adults (e.g., relatives or family friends) in his or her life to have a united front against this type of behavior.
  • If you or your child needs additional help, seek a school counselor or mental health provider.

For more information on the causes, intervention and prevention of bullying, including advice for youth and children experiencing bullying, please see our bullying prevention and intervention fact sheet.

References

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. Cyberbullying Research Center. (2009). Cyberbullying fact sheet Retrieved from http://www.cyberbullying.us/cyberbullying_fact_sheet.pdf

Puresight. (2010). What should I do if my child is a cyberbully?. Retrieved from http://www.puresight.com/Cyberbullying/what-should-i-do-if-my-child-is-a-cyber-bully.html

StopBullying.gov. Are you being bullied? Retrieved April 12, 2011, from http://www.stopbullying.gov/kids/being_bullied/index.html

StopBullying.gov. Recognizing the warning signs. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from http://www.stopbullying.gov/topics/warning_signs/index.html

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