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Janet Hicks Ph.D.
Janet Hicks Ph.D.

What Is Up With Cyber-Bullying?

Common questions and answers about Internet bullying

I often present to parent and community groups on child-related topics such as aggression and bullying. Parents tend to ask common questions about cyber-bullying during these sessions so I thought I would share their questions and answers here. Hopefully, this offers some clarification and help to those dealing with cyber-bullying.

Janet Hicks
Source: Janet Hicks

1) Obviously the online world has given kids a whole new environment in which to bully—do you think this has increased bullying in general?

I think the anonymity of the Internet has opened an environment where kids who might not otherwise have bullied someone feel safe to do so. Some schools I talk to state bullying has decreased on campus. Perhaps this is because bullying is changing venues. Other campuses state that online bullying has further exacerbated the problem because what happens off campus is brought to school. More research is needed to fully understand what is happening.

2) Do you think the use of social media and other online venues has made bullying more severe? Or is just a case of it being different?

Covert bullying has always been around but the Internet offers a place to express this bullying behavior without a need for face-to-face interaction. This depersonalization and anonymity lead to the perception that there will be no consequences for hurtful actions. It removes the human element from the equation. Because of this I think we are seeing more covert bullying behaviors online and it will continue into the future. Is it more severe? I think much of it is the same behavior but it is more devastating for victims because it is seen and often “advertised” worldwide for years.

3) What makes cyber-bullying seem more devastating to my child than when I experienced bullying as a child?

I definitely think that because cyber-bullying occurs online 24/7 in the home environment it is more devastating. Years ago, when a kid was bullied they might be taunted for a few weeks and eventually be able to forget about it because it became old news. Today, this same bullying incident is posted online and the victim is forced to re-live the incident every day for years. Further, other youth have non-ending online exposure. Consequently, the Internet today creates a situation where everyone knows what happened and the ridicule is more far reaching and longer lasting than it ever was in the past. Even moving across town or into a new city or state does not stop the humiliation for victims today. As long as kids find postings online, the emotional impact continues. This can last years! For this reason, I explain to parents that bullying is not the same for their kids as it was for us. It is far more emotionally damaging.

4) Why won’t my child stop logging on to the Internet if he/she is being bullied?

It is easy for adults to tell youth to avoid bullying by not logging onto the Internet. This is hard for youth to do for a couple of reasons. First, the Internet has become the “hangout” for youth. In other words, the Internet is now where a youth’s friends and social interactions take place. Second, youth need to log onto the Internet to complete homework and if they are to have a successful future, they need to stay current on how to use technology. The temptation to check social interactions when already logged on is too great for many youth. For this reason, parents need to model good Internet and social behaviors, react to bullying in ways that do not make bullying worse, build relationships with their children that build resilience, and monitor their child’s Internet use.

5) Is there anything good about the Internet, technology, and/or social media? All I ever hear is that it harms children.

I think technology has more advantages than disadvantages. The rapport created when families use technology together is huge. While social media can be used negatively, it can also be used to build supportive networks that instill resiliency. I think the key is to realize that social media is a reflection of the people using it. Just as we have taught students to support one another in a face-to-face environment, we need to teach them to be there for one another online. Most of all, as adults, we need to train ourselves to use technology so we can understand, monitor, and educate youth. For a long time, parents did not understand technology or the inherent dangers. Just because a child is physically present does not mean they are safe while online.

One positive way the Internet has influenced youth has to do with diversity. Never in history have we had the opportunities we now have to learn about culture. People today have the opportunity to chat with persons from all over the world and become much more culturally diverse. This learning may be important as we combat cyber-bullying through more acceptance of one another and as we build lasting relationships with others via technology. If this is to work, however, parents must be fully informed and involved in their child’s discussions, learn about, and model safe Internet practices.

About the Author
Janet Hicks Ph.D.

Janet Hicks, Ph.D., is a professor of counselor education at Belmont University and a licensed professional counselor who specializes in child and adolescent development.

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