The bullying that once took place in the classroom has largely moved online, but that does not mean the potential damage is any less. Hurtful words conveyed through a computer screen can be just as devastating or even more so, than a fist at recess or after school.
Cyber bullying is a serious threat in the 21st century, one that can have lifelong and even deadly results. Everyone has heard horror stories of cyber bullying incidents that ended in suicide or other tragedies, and hope that their own children are never involved in, or faced with, such devastation.
The bad news is that cyber bullying and online threats are rampant, a growing threat that is thought to affect one in three young people. It is a startling statistic: one-third of teenagers re ported receiving an online threat in the recent past, and one-quarter said they had been bullied through a computer, smartphone or other electronic device.
Cyber bullying happens when someone, be it a schoolmate, acquaintance or even a former friend, tries to harass, defame or intimidate the victim. In many cases the intimidation and harassment comes in the form of harmful messages posted on social media, or lies and rumors spread online. In other cases the perpetrator may post embarrassing or com promising photos of the victim, engaging in a kind of cyber shaming campaign that can crush the young person’s self-esteem.
There are things parents, teachers and school administrators can do to fight back and protect the young people in their care. It is important for every school to have a clear cyber bullying policy in place, and parents should ask about that policy and what it entails, to prevent cyber bullying from happening and to deal with it effectively if it does. The policy should clearly state the consequences of cyber bullying, from punishment for the perpetrators to the rules of evidence and the disciplinary process.
Parents should also be clear about the school’s use of social media and how teachers use these platforms as part of their lesson plans. Social media can be a valuable teaching tool for young people, helping them learn the difference between professional and personal communication, as well as the long-term consequences of their short-term actions. When used in this way, social media engagement can make cyber bullying less, not more, likely to occur.
Those are some things school districts and teachers can do to prevent cyber bullying and mitigate its impact on students. There are plenty of things parents can do as well, beginning with staying vigilant and keeping a sharp eye on what their children are doing online. Watching out for the early warning signs of cyber bullying is extremely important, and careful monitoring can make the detection process easier.
Sudden changes in academic performance or a loss of enthusiasm for favorite activities are two classic warning signs of cyber bullying as is a reluctance to use the computer or engage on social media. Parents who notice any of these troubling warning signs should suspect cyber bullying and have an open and honest discussion with their son or daughter.
Bullies probably have been around for as long as humankind, but their methods of intimidation have evolved with the species and the times. Cyber bullying is a real threat in this new century, but awareness and engagement can go a long way toward reducing the damage and helping affected young people heal.