While bullying in the classroom is something that most parents have at least some first hand knowledge about, the world of cyber bullying is frequently a mystery. And although most parents are in the very least aware of this unfortunate aspect of the internet, few parents understand just what it is or how they can protect their child from it short of taking them offline.
What Exactly is Cyber Bullying?
In essence, cyber bullying is the exact same as regular bullying. The same motives are present in the cyber bully and the experiences of the victim can be just as devastating. The difference lies in the fact that the hurtful actions are taking place over the internet through the multitude of options available to children to communicate with each other online.
Types of Cyber Bullying
The types of cyber bullying that occurs online are just as wide and varied as the regular variety. Here are the three most hurtful types of cyber bullying:
• Flaming: This refers to an interaction between at least two children within a chat room or forum. What often starts as a minor disagreement can quickly escalate to a very hurtful and surprisingly personal attack. Other children in the chat room frequently join in on the fun and gang up on each other with levels of cruelty usually only found in children.
• Spreading Rumours: An unfortunate aspect of the information age is that should a cyber bully want to spread hurtful lies about a victim, they can now do so with alarming efficiency thanks to the ease of which emails and private messages can be sent to hundreds of friends at once.
• Impersonation: As you are likely aware, most children are members of a variety of social networking sites. Impersonation can be achieved by gaining access to a victims login credentials and is one of the most serious forms of cyber bullying. Once a bully gains access to the victims account, they can easily change the victims profile in any number of hurtful ways and send out damaging messages to everyone in the victims contact list.
• Outing: While the fact that a record of everything that’s said online can be beneficial when it comes to fighting cyber bullying, it is also leads to a form of cyber bullying known as outing. Outing refers to one child keeping a record of a conversation that was intended to remain private and then sending said conversation to other people. A more malicious form of outing involves deliberately getting the victim to say mean things about somebody only to forward the conversation to that person.
• Exclusion: Finally, there is the matter of exclusion. Much like in the playground, children frequently exclude each other online. Online exclusion is incredibly hurtful to any child and even children who are not technically the victim of a cyber bully are likely to experience it at one stage or another. The online medium has a wealth of options for excluding people all the way from not accepting friend requests to blocking all messages sent by a specific person.
How to Tell if Your Child is the Victim of Cyber Bullying
Just like regular bullying, the most difficult aspect of preventing cyber bullying is that many parents are not even aware that it is taking place.
• Monitor Your Childs Online Activity: This can be achieved to an extent by keeping your computer in a public area of the house or by going a step further and actually installing software to monitor your child’s internet activity. The morality of the second choice is one that is debateable and though its superior effectiveness cannot really be argued with, whether or not you should install such software is a question that only you can answer.
• Encourage Them to Discuss Any Incidents: Encourage them to tell you about any incidences of cyber bullying that occur. One of the key reasons that children frequently hide cyber bullying from their parents is that they do not want their parents to do anything about the situation for fear that it will make things worse. Tell your child that you will not take any action unless they request you that you do so.
How to Prevent Cyber Bullying
While cyber bullying can never be completely prevented, teaching your child how to avoid it can greatly reduce the potential impact that it can have on his or her life. The following tips have been known to be effective:
• Don’t Retaliate: The first piece of advice that you should offer your child is to simply not respond. Unlike regular bullying where the bully can always witness a reaction in the face of his victim, an online bully can only gain satisfaction from the activity if the victim actually responds. Cyber bullies thrive on responses and if your child does not offer one, eventually the cruel messages will stop.
• Panic Buttons: Most responsibly designed social networking sites contain what are known as panic buttons. They allow members to report any members who send hurtful or dangerous message to other members. In incidences of cyber bullying many sites have support staff that act swiftly.
• User Blocks: If your child is a victim of cyber bullying via private messaging or emails, they can usually select not to receive messages from the particular member responsible.
• Think Before You Type: Teach your child that anything that he/she types on the internet can easily be recorded and/or read by the wrong person. While most adults are aware of the fact that once you Tweet something, it’s out there for good, many younger children get caught out as they simply don’t understand that aspect of the internet.
• Keep a Record: Unlike regular bullying, cyber bullies always leave a paper trail if the victim chooses to safe the correspondence. Teach your child how to do so and should the matter escalate, you will have proof of what the cyber bully has said.
• Security: Teach your child about the importance of keeping their passwords safe. Many children, particularly younger children are unaware of how easily somebody can gain access to their accounts.
Additional Resource – Infographic on Cyber Bullying