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Cyberbullying: What You Need to Know

This article originally appeared in TeachHUB Magazine.

These days, it’s hard enough for young people to navigate their way through the world - throw cyberbullying into the mix and you create an environment where the child is left feeling confused, helpless and, often, hopeless.

It’s sad to say, but bullying isn’t going away anytime soon. The recent statistics on cyberbullying paint an alarming picture about this epidemic: A reported 1/3 of youth experience cyberbullying on a monthly basis. With the rise of social media and the advent of smartphones, bullying has taken on new forms and has become more difficult to uncover. Research tells us that children experience cyberbullying on a more regular basis and, with younger and younger school-age children in possession of smart phones and tablets, bullying has become easier than ever to commit.

Cyberbullying takes many forms, most notably using social media and text messaging to make threats or spread hurtful lies and rumors, and posting embarrassing pictures of someone without their consent. Apps like Instagram and SnapChat have become major tools for cyberbullies, with the latter even allowing teens to cover their tracks and remove all evidence of their bullying. 

Many cyberbullies don’t think what they are doing online is wrong. When asked, a whopping 81 percent of teens said that cyberbullies think their behavior is funny. Parents and educators know that online bullying is a growing problem, but often feel helpless when seeking proper responses and consequences for the bullies. Aside from the obvious solution of telling a school administrator about the bullying, the National Crime Prevention Association suggests students take the following steps when faced with cyberbullying:

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  • Refuse to pass along cyberbullying messages.
  • Tell friends to stop cyber-bullying.
  • Block communication with cyberbullies.

Parents can help monitor their child’s online safety by checking their child’s text messages and social media pages.  If someone is saying things that make the child uncomfortable, they need to “unfriend” them.

As an education practitioner, I can attest to how difficult these things are for kids to do. To them, “unfriending” someone on a social media site is tantamount to social suicide. They know they’ll be teased for being “weak” or made to feel bad about creating boundaries in which they can keep themselves safe.  Instilling a sense of self-esteem in children and helping them be OK with their choice to protect themselves goes a long way in keeping them safe. The Stop Cyberbulling website offers a toolkit and interactive tools to help monitor the online behavior of your child.

The NCPA also suggests ways educators can play a role in preventing cyberbullying:

  • Work with fellow teachers and school administrators to develop rules against cyberbullying.
  • Raise awareness of the cyberbullying problem in your community by holding an assembly and creating fliers to give to students and parents.

Being bullied doesn’t just create an unhappy environment for the student being bullied; it affects their lives in a variety of ways. Grades suffer, and students may become withdrawn. Assaults, suicides, and exacerbated mental health issues are the more grave consequences of bullying and are rare, but should not be dismissed.

Cyberbullying can often be difficult to address because the bullying isn’t happening face to face. But educators need to acknowledge that the bullying is real and causes real problems. Thankfully, many educators have finally shifted to a proactive position when it comes to bullying prevention. But we can, and should, do more.