Although some people dismiss it as a minor concern that’s exaggerated by over-protective parents, cyberbullying can have devastating effects on children and families.
While traditional bullying can involve physical and verbal abuse, cyberbullying refers to abusive actions that take place in electronic formats. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services states that cyberbullying can include “mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.”
The attacks can be relentless
Although many adults can recall being bullied at some point in their childhood, the nature of cyberbullying is very different. Whereas physical bullying can be left behind at the end of the school day, cyberbullying can intensify after school hours.
Hurtful Facebook posts and emails can occur at any time. Furthermore, children that would normally refrain from face-to-face verbal attacks may turn to cyberbullying. With no immediate risk of physical retaliation – and no necessity to witness the victim’s emotional reaction – cyberbullies will often behave much more abusively than they would if they were face-to-face with their victim.
Extreme embarrassment has led to suicide
Because victims often assume that if something happens online, everyone they know will see it – and if something is on the Internet it will live forever – the victim’s embarrassment is magnified. This level of embarrassment is dangerous and has even led to suicides.
Schools only have a limited ability to monitor online and social media interaction among their students – and they’re unable to punish students for online actions committed away from school. Disturbingly, there have also been cases of parents cyberbullying their children’s peers.
What can you do?
The volume of cyberbullying incidents is increasing. A national survey in 2008-2009 found that 6 percent of students in grades 6-12 claimed that they had been bullied online. However, a 2011 study showed that 16 percent of students in grades 9-12 had been cyberbullied.
Schools are increasingly developing policies to try to combat cyberbullying, and legislators are looking at laws on prevention and the punishment of perpetrators. Meanwhile, parents can help to lessen the impact of cyberbullying – by being aware of their children’s online activities and establishing guidelines for how children use electronic devices.