Bullying can take place anywhere – in schools, playgrounds, during transit to and from school, etc. While many schools have anti-bullying policies, technology has taken it to new levels. Cyberbullying is the method where the bullies and the bullied make use of modern technology. The worst effect of cyberbullying is that the one being bullied does not feel safe anywhere – not even in their house.
The Internet provides anonymity that emboldens cyberbullies. Let’s check out what is cyberbullying, how it affects people, how to prevent it, and where to report cyberbullying.
What is Cyberbullying
Bullying is mostly associated with school kids. The word bullying includes one or more of the below:
- Doing some harm to the bullied by using physical power – pushing the victims around, etc.
- Creating fear inside kids using verbal threats
- Teasing, name-calling and inappropriate sex/gender-based comments
- Social bullying such as boycotting a specific person, asking others not to talk to him or her
- Making fun of a child in front of others so that the bullied feels nervous and cuts off socializing
The above list does not cover all the possible forms of bullying. Neither does the above constitute a crime unless there is severe physical harm done or any law is breached. As such, law enforcement authorities leave it to parents and schools to check bullying.
The same is the case with cyberbullying. The only way it is different from the above is that it involves Internet, computers, and smartphones.
Some examples of cyberbullying
- Threats using SMS, WhatsApp or any other messenger services
- Using social media to create a negative image of the bullied
- Creating stress on bullied, using images/text sent via emails
- Making fun of a certain person on social media and in forums
- Creating and using fake profiles to embarrass the bullied
Bullying makes the bully confident. It gives him a dose of confidence and makes him or her feel powerful, and in control. In some cases, it may be simply a case of revenge against another and believe that they are safe and won’t get caught. That is why such people engage in bullying.
Generally, the bullied is targeted over and over until he or she starts fearing everything around. Again, the law enforcement authorities won’t do much in the case of cyberbullying as it is not a crime as long as there is no severe physical violence or an attempt to dishonor the child. At most, the schools and parents will bring in counselors to help both the bully and the bullied.
Effects of Cyberbullying
While effects of ground bullying may result in avoiding a person or school, the effects of cyberbullying reach far. As said earlier, the person being bullied may not feel safe anywhere. The person would be afraid even in his or her house, though the parents may be at home. The visible symptoms of cyberbullying are:
- Child looking pensive most of the times
- Lack of socializing
- Afraid of phones
- Drop in grades
- Losing interests in things that he or she was passionate once
- Lack of sleep
- Fright visible on the victim’s face
- Loss of self-esteem.
The effects of cyberbullying can get more serious: unexplained anxiety, chronic depression (lack of interest in anything and the child keeps to his or her room all the time), panic and fear, etc. If parents notice any such symptoms, they must take the child immediately to a counselor.
How to prevent cyberbullying
The easiest path that could be taken is to stay away from the bully and ignore the person. But since cyberbullying takes place via the medium of the Internet and the victims are children or young adults, it would be a difficult path to follow. Parents and schools need to step in to prevent cyberbullying. Schools and colleges should have an active anti-bullying policy. If such cases are found, schools should invoke counseling via therapists. You need to be aware that both the victim and the bully need counseling.
Coming to the prevention of cyberbullying, the US federal government recommends keeping an eye on what your child is doing. It says you have to:
- Restrict access to the Internet by blocking certain websites
- Allow time-based surfing and mobile usage
- Check into the activities of the children using any software
- Keep the password of the child account with you and using it once in a while to check what all the child does online
- Block people who may be harassing your kids
There are many programs to this end. There is Microsoft’s own Family Safety Program. You can use one of the many free parental controls developed for recent versions of Windows. Also, there are DNS providers that provide good control of your child’s browsing. You may want to check out the features provided by OpenDNS.
I would like to add that you also have to educate your children about bullies, how the bullied suffer if they start fearing the bullies, and to inform you as soon as anything happens online or offline.
How to report Cyberbullying
Law enforcement authorities will step in the following cases:
- Severe physical damage to the bullied
- Usage of sexually explicit messages, or invasion of a child’s privacy (toilets, etc.)
You might report other forms of cyberbullying as well, but there is not much they will do. They might warn the person bullying, if possible.
Here the places to report cyberbullying in other cases:
- ISP and mobile service provider – Inform your ISP and mobile service provider about the cyberbully so that they can block or warn the bully
- Social media sites – if the bully is using social media like Facebook, you have to report it to Facebook Invigilators; normally, each post on Facebook comes with a drop-down menu that allows you to report directly
- Forums and other websites – You’ll have to contact the webmasters and forum admin to stop the bullies
- School authorities – As said earlier, there should be policies in schools/colleges for prevention of cyberbullying; schools can use those policies to warn or counsel the bully
Here are some organizations where you can seek help:
stompoutbullying.org | iheartmob.org | crisistextline.org | onlinesosnetwork.org | cybersmile.org | cybercivilrights.org.
Do check out this Interactive Anti-Bullying Tool for Parents. You may also want to contact the parents of the bully and tell them about the behavior of their children (bullies). Please consult with local law enforcement authorities if you see matters getting out of hand.