Technology is a way of life for us today in our social, personal and professional lives. Just as the adult world has had to adapt and become innovative with technology, our youth are also inundated on a daily basis with trying to juggle the same quantity of technology venues.
The reality today for our youth is that they are dealing with technologies in ways we never imagined. When I was in school email was a foreign concept, tweeting only came from the birds outside, and a snap was something you did with your fingers! With this over-connectedness by our youth there are growing concerns over cyberbullying and the impacts this has on youth.
Bullying is not a new cultural experience, yet today it occurs in new forms. Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin Patchin, Ph.D. from the Cyberbullying Research Center, offer ideas and strategies through their article titled Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response (October 2014). http://cyberbullying.us/Cyberbullying_Identification_Prevention_Response.pdf
What is Cyberbullying?
Hinduja and Patchin define cyberbullying as: "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices." A remarkable 95 percent of teens in the US are online, and three-fourths (74%) access the Internet on their mobile device. From hurtful text message to unauthorized videos taken and uploaded to a variety of social media outlets the hard truth is our youth are more accessible than any other population in history. As parents, guardians, and youth advocates it is our duty to be aware of the negative aspects of this accessibility and be diligent in supporting kids in a positive manner.
Hinduja and Patchin state: "In our research, we inform students that cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person online or repeatedly picks on another person through email or text message or when someone posts something online about another person that they don't like."
Using this definition, about 25 percent of the over 10,000 randomly-selected 11-18 year-olds surveyed over the last seven years have said that they have been cyberbullied at some point in their lifetimes. About 17 percent admitted to cyberbullying others during their lifetime. In the most recent study of middle-school youth from January of 2014, 12 percent said they had been cyberbullied, while 4 percent said they had cyberbullied others within the previous 30 days."
Society as a whole continues on a daily basis to become more accessible. Schools have incorporated technology and this progress is important to keep our youth situated to compete in the work place. But it is not just the home environment that needs to be aware of the consequences of cyberbullying, but the community as a whole.
Hinduja and Patchin report states, "We need to get everyone involved — kids, parents, educators, counselors, youth leaders, law enforcement, social media companies, and the community at large."
Hinduja and Patchin suggest three key points:
- Parents must demonstrate to their children through words and actions that they both desire the same end result: that the cyberbullying stop and that life does not become even more difficult.
- Victims of cyberbullying (and the bystanders who observe it) must know for sure that the adults who they tell will intervene rationally and logically, and not make the situation worse.
- Honest and open monitoring is a part of a healthy parent-child relationship. Spying conveys distrust and may encourage children to go further underground.
Suggested Warning Signs of Cyberbullying
Signs that a child might be a target of cyberbullying:
- Unexpectedly stops using their device(s)
- Seems regularly depressed
- Makes passing statements about suicide or the meaninglessness of life
- Loses interest in the things that mattered most to them
- Frequently calls or texts from school requesting to go home ill
- Desires to spend much more time with parents rather than peers
The other end of the spectrum which parents or guardians need to be aware of is what if you child is the cyberbully.
Signs a child might be a cyberbully:
- Quickly switches screens or hides their device when you are close by
- Uses their device(s) at all hours of the night
- Laughs excessively while using their device(s) and won't show you what is so funny
- Avoids discussions about what they are doing online
- Demonstrates increasing insensitivity or callousness toward other teens
- Appears overly conceited as to their technological skills and abilities
Resources for Cyberbullying Help
There are great resources to educate yourself and family on the bully issue. One resource is http://www.thebullyproject.com/ Some of the content may not be applicable for younger youth, but overall it provides worthy stories and resources for families to explore.
Technology is not going away and it is our responsibility to provide a safe and nurturing environment for our youth, and to understand bully and cyberbullying is today's reality for our youth. How we address it and confront both the bully and the victim are key factors in helping to prevent the spread of this issue.