There has been a noticeable rise in the coverage of cyberbullying in our traditional and digital media outlets as of late. While each victim’s story leads to further education of the prevalence of the problem, more attention needs to be given to the prevention of and coping-response strategies to both traditional bullying and cyberbullying alike.
In order to do so, we need to understand what bullying is exactly. Bullying is commonly defined as the deliberate and repetitive harassment of someone by an aggressor when a power imbalance exists. When we think about traditional schoolyard bullying, we often conceptualize the person with power as being someone of greater physical size or social standing, which is often the case in face-to-face interactions. However, while there is much overlap between traditional bullying and cyberbullying, the way that power is defined online is much different. No longer is the powerful aggressor the one who is more physically domineering. Online, power is had by those whom either 1) have more technological prowess, 2) have anonymity, or 3) have cornered their victim in a place with limited escape, such as hacking into their personal cell phone or home computer.
The effects of bullying, whether online or off, fall along a spectrum of negative consequences ranging from sadness to suicidal ideation. But interesting is that experiencing such consequences as a victim may lead to adopting the role of an aggressor in an attempt to regain some degree of control. In other words, both traditional and cyberbullying may create a cyclical chain reaction perpetuating the need to bully others.
Response When It Happens
So, what are we to do in the face of such a problem that is neither an epidemic nor a rarity among tweens and teens today? Who is responsible to intervene in such situations? And how should victims respond when they find themselves the targets of digital harassment?
Prevention and intervention efforts are not anyone’s onus alone, but instead need to be a collective effort in all areas and at all levels of a child’s life. This is because in a world where our lives are increasingly moving online, what happens there is determined and affected by what is happening at home, at school, and anywhere else children choose to spend their time.
One of the most effective ways to prevent children from becoming involved in cyberbullying is to provide them with a warm parent-child relationship, one where open conversations are held and trust is established as an expected norm. This leads to parental restrictive mediation of digital tools that is acceptable to children in such a relationship. When there is a poor parent-child relationship, less supervision in all areas of life including the digital lives of kids often leads to a higher risk of involvement in cyberbullying.
Another avenue to be pursued by victims of cyberbullying is to rely on their peer-network for support. In general, kids are hesitant to speak up to parents about cyberbullying issues for fear that they may lose privileges themselves and also because many parents are ignorant to the reality of online harassment and available technological responses resulting in moms and dads telling their children to just ignore the offenders. Friends on the other hand can make a tremendous difference in putting a stop to targeted assaults on one another. Many times, all it takes to stop the victimization of a child is for one of his or her peers to step in to defend the victim.
In the school community, peer-intervention can take the form of student-leaders making efforts to educate others about the reality and potential effects of cyberbullying. Similarly, developing leadership skills among students along with bullying coping strategies may help kids develop the confidence and courage to intervene.
Creating A Bully Free Culture
Protecting children from the throes of deliberate harassment should be a key priority for any adult figure. However, protection simply addresses the symptoms of a problem and not the cause. Why do some children become bullies while others do not? Traditional criminology theory states that bullying can be a learned behavior. It can also be a manifestation of low-self control, a response to strain, or an attempt to regain some sense of balanced control in one’s life. Cyberbullying is also thought to be a logical extension of traditional bullying which necessitates open dialogue with kids about such a relationship to preclude such an outcome.
Creating a culture that acknowledges the reality of cyberbullying and educates students about the factors that lead to the victimization of another is essential to eradicating such a problem. With the proliferation of the Internet and mobile devices, there is no shortage of cyberbullies or victims. Education is imperative to preventing and eventually eradicating deliberate and repeated online harassment. The news is surrounding us with tragic stories of victimization as a result of our ever-increasing digital world. That’s why it is so important that we take a stand to teach our children about the nature of cyberbullying and to once and for all make being nice go viral.