Cyber Bullying: The Ugly Truth
Source: Michael from Radical Parenting
Bullying that takes place over the internet? How can that be? Can't you just close out of the window or sign off? These are the attitudes so commonly taken by parents and educators today. Even some teens fail to understand the implications of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying reaches deeper than just online verbal harassment. The nature of the internet allows for magnified audience of people to watch it happen. So, while verbal bullying at school is often directly aimed at an individual with a limited group of witnesses, cyber bullying can impose equal if not greater trauma and humiliation from anywhere, around the clock, and with an unlimited crowd of onlookers.
Take this example. A kid, Zack, at his middle school has rumors that are being spread about him amongst the class body. As if having everyone at your school think you're a loser isn't enough, Zack arrives home that night only to logon to the internet and find that the gossip has spread to the online world. On his Formspring account, Zack finds that he has ten new questions, "Dude...I heard you're gay!?" "Haha mannn and I thought you were an okay kid, I can't believe you cheated on her!" and "You know life really sucks when people can't even say your name without thinking GAY!!" amongst others. Next Zack checks Facebook, all over his wall are comments from people who he thought were his friends, making fun of him and dissing everything about him. Worse, a new Facebook group was formed; "Join if you think Zack's a Fag!" It currently has 47 members, all of whom are on his "friends list", some of whom he doesn't even know. Zack logs into Myspace, thirty minutes ago a bulletin was posted, "10 Reasons Zack Sucks". He turns his computer off. He's getting text messages on his phone now too. Zack doesn't know what to do, what can he do, his reputation is destroyed, his "friends" turned against him. What was a gross rumor made up by an ex-girlfriend has now completely ruined his life. Now you see what a potent and vile affect cyber bullying can have.
This story may sound extreme, but somewhere it has happened. Every day an estimated 200,000 kids stay home from school for one reason; they can't face the pain. Here's what you need to know about stopping cyber bullying if this happens to you or someone you care about.
Advice for Parents
Recognize the signs. Obviously if you're the victim of Cyber Bullying, you know it. For parents, friends, and family however, sometimes it can be more difficult to gain an insight into a teens life, especially online. Look for any drastic changes in behavior, specifically, more than normal mood swings. Watch for any signs that suggest hesitation in going to school or avoiding social events. After kids try long enough to get themselves out of a situation and it hasn't worked, they begin to shut down. They might ditch school or refuse to go to school, but not give a clear reason to their parents. This should be a blatantly obvious sign something out of the ordinary is wrong. Teachers also play an instrumental part in this process. Often teachers hear things and disregard them as normal adolescent banter. When gossip has gotten to the point of being discussed around a teacher, it's a sign that this information has been circulating around the student body for some time and is no longer an issue that can be overlooked.
Tell the authorities if it's seriously abusive, threatening or illegal. As much as your child may resist, you need to get help. Depending on where the source of abuse is coming from, you need to contact your ISP (Internet Service Provider), the network that the bullying is happening on, and/or you cell phone provider. It is also a good precaution to take screen shots of any abusive comments on your kid's profile and save all texts. You need to send this material to the abuse email addresses that social networks provide you with on their websites. If the problem continues to escalate or is not resolved in a week or less, ask your local law enforcement for help. Call the police non-emergency number and ask to be connected to their cyber crime or hate crime division. Tell them everything and provide them with the evidence you've collected.
Advice for Kids
Do not engage the aggressors. Verbal abuse is not a fistfight, so there is no need to engage. Angry responses only show that the abuse is getting to you and entice the aggressor to continue their assault. Believe it or not, an emotional reaction gives additional ammunition for further bullying. A positive aspect of the internet is that you can ignore abuse without anyone seeing your reaction. At school try your best to brush things off. Even if you're breaking down inside, staying strong at this time will prove extremely advantageous to you now and later on.
Appropriately respond to rumors. It's not worth fanning the flames of the rumor mill by countering the abuse you're receiving. Directing more abuse or rumors at those who are attacking you only ups the ante and keeps attention focused on the negative gossip. While it is important to set the record straight about anything that is not true, the fastest way to recovery is to move forward with your life.
If the problem still persists, consider taking all your affected accounts offline. Some ISP's, particularly social networks, are not effective in stopping online bullying. If you have contacted the social network's abuse center, contacted local law enforcement, and your ISP, and the problem still persists, cancel your accounts. This may seem like surrender, but you need to remove from the source of the breeding ground that people are using to attack you.
Not only does everyone need to be aware of the severity of cyber bullying, but also it's important for parents, pre-teens and teens to be empowered to respond appropriately and effectively when it occurs.
Michael is a teen writer for Radical Parenting.com, a parenting website written from the kid's perspective with 82 teen interns! He is a 17 - year-old from Orange County, CA. He is a social entrepreneur, public speaker, and truly enjoys helping other's better understand teen related issues.