Cybercrimes on a Personal Level: What is Cyberbullying?
Julianne Grayson, freelance writer for HomeSecurity.org
Cyberbullying differs from cyberstalking primarily in that there is a minor involved. Tragically, cyberbullying has become a popular form of torment for some teens and preteens. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 6% of U.S. middle school and high school students experienced cyberbullying in 2009. While physically bullied children are more likely to be cyberbullied by their fellow students, perhaps because they have already been targeted, any child can be victimized.
The National Crime Prevention council defines cyberbullying as a form of cyberharassment. State laws differ, but most jurisdictions agree that anyone, adult or minor, who engages in harassing, embarrassing, threatening or humiliating behavior of a child under 18 is guilty of cyberbullying. While all 50 states have laws that prosecute bullying, many are still in the process of developing the legal ramifications to online bullying; however, nearly all states prosecute electronic harassment. The anonymity of the web makes it difficult to trace perpetrators. Minors can face a charge of juvenile delinquency, although the hope is that a responsible adult will be able to intervene and end the bullying before it truly escalates.
The difficulty in cyberbullying is that teens and preteens are emotionally unprepared to handle persistent online harassment; some situations have become so dire that they have ended in something as tragic as suicide. Parents are often unaware of the extent or even the existence of the bullying because it is happening in an unmonitored online space. Children also report a reluctance to tell their parents about cyberbullying because they are afraid of losing privileges on their electronic devices. While it is not typical for sexual predators to cyberbully, an online smear campaign may attract predators’ attention; some cyberbullies post ads offering their victims as sexual partners.
What Can Parents Do to Prevent Cyberbullying?
The first step to awareness is to acknowledge that this form of abuse exists and talk about it with your children.
Consider discussing playground bullying and how that makes a victim feel, and encourage children to draw a parallel with cyberbullying. Establish boundaries for online entertainment on social media platforms or in chat rooms, and set time limits for device usage. Monitor your children’s accounts to the extent that you are able. Privacy always becomes a tricky issue when children near the teen years; decide as a family how best to handle potentially dangerous online activity. Other tips and tricks to discourage cyberbullying include:
- Educate your children about netiquette — Internet etiquette, the code of conduct for responsible surfing and online, person-to-person interaction; remember, just assuming they know how to handle themselves online is risky. Stress that once something is online, it never disappears.
- Encourage children to consider tone, and to understand that words can be hurtful in a one-dimensional medium.
- Model proper online behavior; avoid gossip or criticism of a person who is not present. Think twice before you rush to unfriend someone after a disagreement; your kids will follow your lead.
- Consider installing monitoring software on your children’s electronic devices; inform them if you do so.
- Follow or friend your children on social media, or have a trusted adult friend do it for you.
- Instill the message that children will not lose privileges by telling you or a teacher about cyberbullying
- If your child is the victim of a cyberbully, block the perpetrator’s access to your child. Do not empower the bully with a response; report the behavior to appropriate adults.
- Monitor what your child is sending and receiving. Be aware that your child could be the one doing the bullying.
- Teach your child the IBR Technique: Ignore, Block and Report cyberharassment.
- Consider whether to involve your child’s school if you suspect cyberbullying. Many state laws that protect victims have clauses in place that require school intervention.
- Empower your child with the message that on the Internet, the world is his or her audience. If your child has important or personal information to share, encourage a personal conversation.
- Insist that your child never share a password with anyone besides a parent.
- Do not let your child post locational information, such as school schedules, on social media sites.
- Keep lines of communication open with your pre-teens and teens, and be aware of their daily lives.
- Encourage children that they do not have to respond to perceived peer pressure and respond to an online taunt.
- Consider purchasing software that will monitor your child’s devices for key words that you establish.
Cyberbullying can have tragic consequences. As parents, awareness is key. Be aware of your child’s electronic device usage, how your child is faring socially and of current news about cyberbullying. Ask questions and consult a teacher if necessary; bullying is insidious, and cyberbullying is harder to detect, but an alert parent should spot the signs.