Sunday, April 10, 2011

Five W's and an H: Cyberbullying

This post was originally written for the website Summit Series for Families

Gone are the days of what adults think of as bullying: the boy on the playground threatening to beat up someone for lunch money. Nowadays, bullying comes in a more insidious form that has coined its own genre – cyberbullying. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center cyberbullying is the “…willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Since this form of bullying and harassment is a new form of intimidation, parents need to learn everything they can about it in order to protect their children from it, prevent their children from doing it, and help their children deal with it when they encounter or experience it.

WHO are the cyberbullies? Ultimately, anyone with access to technology can be a cyberbully. However, research done by Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin shows that girls are slightly more likely to be cyberbullies than boys, and cyberbullying behavior seems to occur at even rates among all races/ethnicities (see graphs of their research here).

WHAT is cyberbullying? Simplifying the definition above, cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass and intimidate others.

WHERE does cyberbullying happen? It is incorrect to think that all incidents of cyberbullying happen at home. Cyberspace has expanded beyond the walls of our homes so cyberbullying occurs wherever kids can use technology, which can include a friend’s house, school, the library, the mall, or in the car with parents. Smart phones and computers allow kids to be connected to the world literally every place they go.

WHEN does cyberbullying start? Some research indicates that kids experience cyberbullying in their teens and that it is most prevalent among 15 and 16 year olds but really can start any time children have access to technology, which can be as early as age 10 when kids might get cell phones or some relatively unsupervised time on a computer (see research by the National Crime Prevention Council here).

WHY do kids cyberbully? A thorough list of possibilities can be found here through the Stop Cyberbullying website. The bottom line is some reasons stem from misguided attempts to do something perceived as good (like improving social standing or defending a friend) to reasons that are more sinister in nature (like anger, revenge, power, or to elicit a reaction). Ultimately, many kids can’t succinctly express why they do it.

HOW do kids cyberbully? The most prevalent forms of cyberbullying include posting mean or hurtful comments online and spreading rumors. The most commonly used forms of technology include cell phones and texting, Facebook, and game systems such as xBox 360 (see data).

The kids of today have always had technology as a part of their lives. For the majority of adults, it hasn’t been with us for even half of our lives. Because of this, parents need to learn about the technology that is at their children’s fingertips in order to do our jobs as parents by bringing up safe, responsible digital citizens.

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