Bullying in the digital age

Last Modified: 7/02/2021

cyberbullying

This post was written by Jessica Pater, MS, PhD, manager and research scientist, Health Services and Informatics Research, Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation.

Over the last 18 months, we have collectively spent more time on the internet than ever before. This has allowed us to stay connected, maintaining our jobs, school and relationships while we weren’t able to physically be with each other. However, not all this communication has been positive. After only a few months of lockdown, there was a 70% increase in cyberbullying between kids and teens online. [1]

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones and computers, but can also include gaming consoles. Social media, text messages, email, online forums and gaming communities are the most common places where cyberbullying takes place. [2] Cyberbullying can be carried out by an individual or a group of people using a singular platform or group of platforms at the same time for their attack. [3] Additionally, sometimes fake accounts can be set up ensuring that the target of cyberbullying doesn’t know who is behind the persecution.

What are some examples of cyberbullying?

Sometimes kids and teens might not report this type of bullying because they are unsure of what qualifies as cyberbullying. Most people would define sending mean emails, texts, messages or posting hurtful things about someone on social media as cyberbullying. However, there are other forms of harassment, which can include:

  • Spreading rumors or gossip online
  • Creating fake and demeaning online profiles of the victim
  • Taking an embarrassing photo or video and sharing it without permission
  • Modifying photos or videos of a victim to cause humiliation
  • Attacking or killing a victim’s character in an online game
  • Threatening or intimidating someone online or in text messages
What are the warning signs of cyberbullying?

Knowing that a child might not report cyberbullying, parents and caregivers need to understand and recognize some of the behavioral warning signs. Some of the most common red flags to watch for indicating that a child might be the victim of cyberbullying could include:

  • If they become sad or angry after using a device (phone, computer or video game)
  • If they don’t want to use their technology in common areas or places where you can monitor or see what is happening on the screen
  • If they suddenly stop using their technology all together
  • If they become withdrawn
  • If they seem despondent and say things like “I have no friends,” “everyone at school hates me,” or “there’s lots of drama at school right now”
  • If they fear going to school or attending social events
What can parents and caregivers do to help?

As a parent or caregiver, you can’t guarantee that your child will never get cyberbullied. However, there are things that you can do to create an environment where, if cyberbullying does occur, your child has the tools to recognize it and feels safe talking to you about it.

  • Talk about Internet safety in the home. Using the resources provided in this article, talk to your children about internet safety and cyberbullying. Discuss the different forms of cyberbullying and the steps that you can take to address them.
  • Maintain open communication. Be interested in your children’s online activities. Ask them to explain new platforms to you, as this will build their confidence in being an “expert” on the platform and give you insights into how they are using various technologies.
  • Establish acceptable use. Create a Family Acceptable Use Policy with your children. This plan will allow you the opportunity to think about your values as a family and what is appropriate for both adults and children. [4]
  • Keeping the computer in a central location is not enough. The family computer or laptops are just one of several ways that your child might experience cyberbullying. Video game consoles and phones are not only a vehicle for cyberbullying, but they also have internet browsers that allow for direct access, just like your computer.
Resources for parents

Looking for more resources? If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, you can find more information and support on the following sites:

 

Sources

[1] L1ght

[2] Stopbullying.gov

[3] Pater, J. A., Miller, A. D., & Mynatt, E. D. (2015, April). This digital life: A neighborhood-based study of adolescents' lives online. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2305-2314).

[4] Frederick Lane

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