How Cyberbullying Differs from Standard Bullying and How to Stop It
Bullies will always exist and they will always try to attack you where they think you are weak. Their personal insecurities manifest in the form of intimidation, belittling insults and the siphoning of self-confidence. Until around ten years ago, bullies all operated under pretty standard patterns, using sheer intimidation to get what they want.
Children are especially susceptible to this type of bullying because of their still developing minds. Yet technology has given them a new, subtler problem to deal with: cyberbullying. What was once little more than a playground issue has become an entirely different problem. You can’t let your children fall victim.
This new challenge requires you to know the difference between how bullies act in person and online. More than ever, you need to be aware not just of where your children are but what they’re involved in.
Social Media and Mob Rule
Many of us have started giving our kids access to tablets, PCs and smartphones early in life. It’s not uncommon to see a five-year-old child playing on an iPad or using mom’s phone to play games. Due to that early access, children learn the ins and outs of technology and become very good at doing specifically what they want to do.
For most kids, that quickly moves to communicating with people they know from school or friends they’ve met elsewhere. Even without a data or texting plan, social media apps still function so long as there’s WiFi. It could be at home or at school, so long as they have access.
Yet what makes social media inherently different from regular bullying is its public nature. Children can be bullied publicly by whole groups of other kids that have decided to “team up” without realising the consequences of their actions. All too often, the victim is continually excluded and teased online but refuses to speak out and tell an adult.
Get Control or Get Out
Bullying on social media is something you have a much better chance of interrupting. There are a few different ways to handle the problem:
- Educate your children. Teach them people say stupid things online that they wouldn’t normally say in person.
- Make use of parental controls. Teach your kids not everyone online is worth talking to. It’s also a good time to bring up online security.
- In the worst case scenario, you might need to unplug.
Understand that children are often aware that people act differently online, but that doesn’t make them good at applying that knowledge to their own circumstances. You have the sight to see around corners, and it’s imperative that you share that knowledge with the youth.
Younger children benefit the most from parental oversight. As kids get older, they become more independent and less willing to allow you into their accounts to alter how things work. Set a standard early on and educate them to be able to avoid individual bullies or groups. Make sure they know that nearly all social media services have a “block” mechanism.
Kids also tend to overshare personal information, so be sure to check any profiles they have. Information such as addresses and phone numbers can be dangerous not only because of bullies, but because of adult criminals too. I tend to make sure my kids have the right sort of security software installed as well, such as a security suite and a Virtual Private Network for anonymity (Secure Thoughts has recommendations).
In some cases it may be necessary to take a “scorched earth” approach and just shut everything down. Unplugging from social media and the online scene is the only surefire way to put a stop to bad cyberbullying. Getting out of just social media is really the easiest, because it doesn’t require you to stop using the other benefits of online technology.
A more personal and difficult form of cyberbullying is what we know as cyberstalking.
Cyberstalkers: Creeps of the Net
Before we delve into the realm of stalkers, a word of caution: the goal here is not to instill unnecessary paranoia in our children but to make them ready to deal with the real world. As much as the old “don’t talk to strangers” message is true, our mission should be to raise intelligence, courageous children that aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves.
With that said, cyberbullies can become a much bigger problem if they start harassing your children directly. Unlike the public humiliation of social media bullying, cyberstalking is much more personal and bullies frequently seek to isolate their prey.
What makes this worse than regular bullying is the inability to escape from the bully. Constant emails, text messages, private messages on social media, and in rare cases harassment through identity theft or malware can make it seem like there’s no escape from the bully. Not even the home is a safe space.
This type of bullying is harder to notice. You can’t just go on Facebook and visit your child’s page. Cyberstalking bullies will tend to be direct. Regrettably, that may mean having to pry into your child’s text messages and communications in order to make sure nothing is happening.
The best approach is transparency. Make sure your kids know that you will check their phones and computers from time to time if you see a need. A sudden, unannounced search is about as well-received by your kids as by you when the police come knocking at your own door.
Don’t Let It Get That Bad
Cyberbullying may differ from traditional bullying, but it still holds true that stopping it early is key. If you let things go too far, you might not be able to handle things on your own. Talk to your kids if they start acting differently. Find out what’s bothering them, even if they’re not too happy to share.
Getting the authorities involved can sometimes make things more complicated, but it may be necessary. If you feel a bully is threatening your child’s mental or physical health online, it’s time to look for help. Consulting your school is rarely a bad idea, as they take cyberbullying very seriously.
Remember that going to the police should be low on your list. In most cases, they can’t do much without evidence of a serious threat. That being said, don’t hesitate to give them a call if you need advice or if events have progressed too far.
The Cost of Failure
Being scared doesn’t do anyone any favors. You shouldn’t be scared of your children being cyberbullied, but it’s critical to understand how important prevention really is. In the long-term, kids that become the victims of cyberbullies are more likely to use drugs, and experience health problems.
The important thing to remember is that these risks can be prevented if you take action. Stop bullying before it becomes a problem and you’ll have happier, healthier kids. It’s just that simple.
About the Author: Shawna Bussa
Shawna loves children. She’s also keenly aware of how unsafe the internet can be. To hear Shawna’s latest thoughts on technology and culture in general, follow her on: Twitter