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Posted in Online Savvy | February 2015

The unseen bully

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Once upon a time bullies had faces and identities, which made it easier to combat their cruelty. But now parents have to grapple with invisible bullies who use electronic devices to torment their children. Because the bullying happens online, the torment technically lasts forever—you can’t delete what has been sent out into cyberspace. According to Cyberbullying.ca , cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior by an individual or group, which is intended to harm others.

Part of the problem is that not everyone understands exactly what cyberbullying entails. Even kids are sometimes unaware that they are participating in it by forwarding embarrassing photos of friends or texting a rumor they’ve heard, for example.

Prevnet, Canada’s authority on research and resources for bullying prevention, has a thorough list of behaviors that are considered cyberbullying:

  • Sending mean and sometimes threatening emails or text messages.
  • Spreading gossip, secrets or rumors about another person that will damage that person’s reputation.
  • Breaking into an email account and sending hurtful materials to others under an assumed identity.
  • Creating blogs or websites that have stories, cartoons, pictures or jokes ridiculing others.
  • Creating polling websites where visitors are asked to rate individuals’ attributes in a negat
  • Taking an embarrassing photo of someone with a digital camera and emailing that photo to others.
  • Engaging someone in instant messaging, tricking them into revealing personal information and then forwarding that information to others.
  • Using someone else’s password in order to change their profile to reflect sexual, racist and other content that may offend others.
  • Posting false or hurtful messages on online bulletin boards or in chat rooms.
  • Deliberately excluding others from instant messaging and email contact lists.

Kids are often reluctant to tell an adult when they are being cyberbullied for fear of losing access to their electronic devices or having their online activities restricted, so it’s important to reassure your child that you will not take away their phone or computer, but if they encounter anything upsetting or threatening during their time online they should always tell an adult. Teens who are being cyberbullied may exhibit the same kinds of behaviors as kids who are being bullied in real life: irritability, distress, and unhappiness. They may also change the way and frequency with which they use their computers.

As a parent, what can you do if your child is being cyberbullied? Prevnet suggests three key strategies:

  • Always be willing to listen to your teen and advocate for them when necessary. Because of the nature of online communication and the rapid spread of messages and images, cyberbullying can quickly escalate and needs swift intervention.
  • Keep a record of any threatening or disturbing emails, chat room history, web posts or phone messages so that you can take them to your internet service provider or the police.
  • Make sure to report incidents of cyberbullying to your child’s school and to your internet service provider.

While you’re talking to your teens about cyberbullying, make sure to remind them that whatever they post on the internet will be linked to them forever. It’s a new reality that parents and teens should take seriously. That questionable photo they posted on Facebook and think is funny now may not be so amusing when they are trying to get their first job, and that mean comment they added to an online conversation at 13 may one day be found by a fiancé at 26.

In many ways we’re all still trying to navigate the realities of a life online in a world where digital technology keeps changing the rules of the game. Keeping the lines of communication open is always the best strategy for making sure your children and teens are safe and healthy.

For a guide to teaching kids to be safe and ethical online, check out Prevnet’s Media Smarts series , and for more information on helping your child cope with cyberbullying, visit HelpGuide.org.

412010D CAN/US (02/15)

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