Nurturing Resilience

Raising children to be competent and caring.

There's at Least One Way to Combat Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying stops when we take away the bully's anonymity.

The parents of a 15-year-old girl recently went to court to get turned over to police the computer IP address for whoever created a fake Facebook page that made defamatory and sexually lewd comments about their daughter. While Facebook took down the page after the complaint, the internet service provider is still wrestling with whether they should be required to make public the name of those who are responsible. I think it's time we put some limits on the capacity of people to misuse social media, especially when it involves children.

Bullying isn't a single episode of a nasty comment. I'm not one to call 4-year-olds who poke each other bullies, nor am I one to call a scuffle on the playground assault and ask the police to investigate. But when one or more young people go out of their way to harass and demean another then it's time for us adults to intervene.

The problem with the internet isn't that it promotes bullying. My generation did as much bullying as kids today, maybe even more. The danger posed by the internet, however, is twofold. First, the one doing the bullying can be anonymous, and bullies are made stronger by their anonymity. No one can catch them which means they can act and take no responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Second, in cyberspace, bystanders can number in the thousands. On the playground, an act of bullying might be seen by a few dozen children. On the internet, a child's self-concept is destroyed and witnessed by an entire community.

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What experts who have studied bullying like Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig show is that bullying stops when a child finds a friend and ally, or we change the environment around a child and monitor children's behaviour more closely. Pretty simple solutions that schools are getting good at implementing: helping children make friends and putting monitors on their playgrounds. In cyberspace, though, the victim is terribly alone to suffer by herself. And rather than monitors, everyone looking in, including the adults, become bystanders to the assault. Even our peeking at the Facebook page only adds to the bullied child's feeling of vulnerability.

Though I hate to trample on anyone's right to privacy, in a case where there has clearly been a persistent, planned attack on a child, I think we have to hold those responsible accountable for the pain they've caused others. I've learned from years of working with delinquent youth that they actually appreciate when someone finally says, "Enough" and makes them responsible directly to those they've harmed.

 

Michael Ungar, Ph.D., is a family therapist, a researcher at Dalhousie University, and the author of The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids.

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