Cyberbullying

Child exposed to cyberbullying

It's one thing when you get made fun of at school, but to be bullied in your own home via your computer is disgusting … It decreases my self esteem and I often wonder what I did to make someone treat me that way. — A 16-year old girl in Alabama

Signs that Your Child Is a Cyberbully

  • Uses the computer at all hours of the night.
  • Quickly switches screens and/or closes windows when you come by.
  • Child is unusually upset when they cannot use the computer.
  • Avoids discussions about what they are doing online.
  • Laughs excessively while using the computer.
  • Becomes irritable if you question them or interrupt their computer time.

Signs that Your Child Is Being Cyberbullied

  • Unexpectedly or suddenly discontinues use of the computer.
  • Appears nervous, jumpy, anxious or scared when an instant message appears.
  • Discontinues interest in going to school, extra curricular and/or general outside activities.
  • Is visibly angry, frustrated, depressed or sullen, after using the computer.
  • Becomes abnormally withdrawn and distant from family, friends, and favorites activities.
  • Lack of appetite with food in general and specific favored foods.

From Sameer Hinhuda, PhD. & Justin Patchin, PhD — Cyberbullying Research Center

Steps can be taken to collect the time stamps on chat sessions, and IP addresses (a distinct number that identifies individual computers) to prove who is doing bullying. If a parent is remotely tech savvy, they should teach and encourage their children to do print screens of bully messages. Un-savvy parents have options too. They can take their computers to certified technicians who will search the computer's hard drive for history and cookies, to find hidden IP addresses and chat log records. Technicians can also install recorder programs, that record all that happens online. Utilizing these options can help to locate a bully more readily. Once parents and victims have proof in hand, they can contact the school and local authorities, to press charges. (Source: Brandy Williams)

For more information about cyberbullying you can go to the following sites:

Cyberbullying is justifiably receiving much needed attention. A recent poll conducted by CNN suggests that the effects of cyberbullying are more destructive emotionally than other forms of bullying behavior.

What makes this kind of bullying especially challenging is that on the internet, communication can be anonymous. How do we combat bullying that doesn't have a face?

It's not just the one engaging in the bullying behavior online who's invisible. The person at whom the aggressive behavior is directed is also not directly seen.

Online, communication is fast and immediate. Anyone can act on his or her immediate impulse or reaction. We think something, type it out and press send almost instantaneously. Normal inhibitions stop applying. People are more apt to hurt others when they cannot actually see the target of their aggression and/or the intended target cannot see them.

Take the following extreme example from "Private Moment Made Public, Then a Fatal Jump," a front page article in The New York Times (10/30/10). An 18 year-old Rutgers University freshman apparently committed suicide after an internet video showed him in a sexual encounter. Fellow students allegedly displayed and transmitted the video.

Readers had a strong reaction to this article — an astounding 888 letters poured in. I read the responses and felt that they really summed up the tragedy of cyberbulling and the urgent action that needs to be taken:

"Our society must enforce appropriate legal consequences to deter the use of technology to so humiliate an individual into feeling that life is untenable. We cannot afford to lose another young, promising life so senselessly." (Lorraine DeRienzo-Buchbinder, Suwanee, GA)

"I hope that parents and teachers will encourage young people to create healthy identities and be 'whole' without the obsessive need to be connected and share everything over the Internet. Or, at least, teach them that all actions have consequences — whether it is the loud teasing of a bully or the soft click of a mouse button." (Grace Yan, West Haven, CT)

There's no panacea, no 'magic bullet' to solving the problem of cyberbullying. If we're to make headway nonetheless, we need an understanding of what makes cyberbullying so prevalent in adolescents.

Basically, from a biological perspective, the adolescent's brain is not yet fully developed. Just as an adolescent's body is in the midst of developing, so to is his or her mind. The prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that directs executive functioning. It is where we literally do all of our thinking, organizing and understanding — the place where we realize the ramifications to our present actions, which ultimately develops into our conscience.

To give an example, when we ask the typical misbehaving teenage child, "What were you thinking?!" the actual answer, physiologically speaking, is that he or she was indeed not thinking. Or put more precisely, they were not thinking in the way that a fully developed brain would in adults.

Let's look at cyberbullying from an emotional/behavioral perspective. Freud depicted the mind as having an id, ego and superego. The id comprises our desires and impulses to act regardless of right or wrong. The id also craves instant gratification: "I want it and I want it now!" The superego functions as a gatekeeper, slowing us down, giving us time to think before reacting. And the ego modulates between the two. With regard to online behavior, the superego and ego are shortcircuited, basically giving the id free reign to act on impulses.

Reducing Risk Factors Associated With Online Use

The law is still playing catch-up. Our technological advances are outpacing our legal understanding of how to respond. If online behavior occurs off of school campus, is it still the school's responsibility to act? How can any school act without evidence that either supports or denies any allegation made? In simple terms, who is the perpetrator and who is the victim? These questions present grey areas to which our best legal and information technology minds are working to figure out the proper responses. For example, there is a plethora of devices to monitor online behavior and they have their merits.

Nevertheless, I would suggest that the most effective way to prevent bullying behavior online is one of the simplest, and also the hardest: for us adults to parent our children. We must be aware of our children's online activity. Parents, we need to check up on Facebook, to see what kind of message, rumor, or gossip is being written, sent and forwarded.

  • Prevention is not a foolproof solution. Nevertheless, monitoring online activity is an important place for every parent to begin. Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, is a recognized authority on issues related to the safe and responsible use of the Internet. I have found this site to provide vital information for both educators and parents. Information provided includes investigating and intervening in situations which involve cyberbullying, cyberthreats and sexting, legal issues and a student agreement to address the challenges that come with internet use. Ms. Willard notes that in an age in which the process of "I can't see you and you can't see me, therefore my actions can't hurt you" can go undeterred, we adults need to respond by demonstrating that we are watching. Our regularly checking in does provide a deterrent.
  • If a child is receiving nasty emails and other forms of digital communication, I recommend that the parents keep a record of all messages that were received. Documentation should include content and dates. Documentation is really important: it can provide evidence to support an allegation, should a situation come to that. Documentation is also useful in helping to determine if a behavior is a first time incident or a pattern of behavior that is consistent and repeated.
  • For younger students, I recommend keeping their laptop or desktop computer in a place that is visible and accessible to members of the household. There are many sordid websites that are quick and easy to access, particularly pornographic sites. It is disturbing how easy it is to gain access to these sites; your attention can go a long way towards keeping children safe.
  • Parents and educators, limit cell phone use. At the very least, cell phones should not be used during class and structured activities. It's hard to remember that we did communicate before cell phones existed. More and more, however, cell phones are pocket computers. Therefore, they present the same, if not greater, bullying possibilities, particularly with regard to texting. I meet and see kids as young as eleven that use cell phones constantly. I also see students that text each other rather then talk to each other — even when they are in the same room! You see where that could lead.
  • Create boundaries. Allow for time to use cell phones and access social media such as Facebook, Twitter and the like, but create times when these devices need to be turned off and the sites left for another day. I've listened to many kids express how they go on email with the intention to stay on for fifteen to twenty minutes and they end up spending several hours. We need to encourage children and teens to find other outlets and to engage in other, non-virtual activities.
  • Parents, we must be a role model. If you are asking your child to turn off their cell phone during dinner, then yours should be off as well. We cannot expect children to do something that we ask of them if we don't teach by example.
  • Always act with caution. Allow yourself time to calm down and think and collect all the facts. I have heard numerous experiences from many different teachers throughout the country that it is more common then not that they will hand back test scores and by the time the class period is over and they return to their office their voicemail is full of messages from zealous parents. What's happening is that parents are responding immediately to a text message sent by their child during class to express the student's dissatisfaction with a test score they just received. Basically, if we do not want to encourage our children to act impulsively, we need to set the example rather then fan the flame.
  • Educators, I suggest that a provision be added to the school's policy in which they reserve the right to discipline students for actions taken off-campus if they have an effect on a student's safety and well-being while at school.
  • The main responsibility is with us parents. We must ask ourselves whether we trust that the school to which we are sending our children provides a safe and nurturing environment for our kids. In the best case scenario we want to develop an alliance with our school faculty and administrators. Adversarial relationships can abound and make life difficult for everyone, most importantly the student.

Cyberbullying sounds scary, I know. And I don't want to be alarmist. So let me end on a positive factor, and this is huge: the amazing teachers, and there are many of them. Jewish Day Schools in particular staff educators who do a terrific job of educating and mentoring students. I know the teachers in my area regularly open their homes and hearts to students. While we cannot expect our educators to be substitute parents, we also should not underestimate their positive impact on the growth and development of our children.

(Side note: I have met and continue to meet countless students and faculty members that remain in contact long after their school career has ended. Considering how the impact these educators had on molding the students into healthy adults, it's little surprise that over time the relationships between them remain and even grow stronger. Our teachers are why we choose to send our children to a Jewish Day School and work so hard to pay the expense of doing so.)

When kids engage in bullying behavior they can be fully conscious that what they are doing is wrong. They know it's contrary to Jewish values. Jewish Day School students are taught from an early age, "Derech eretz kadma laTorah," which means: Respect or common courtesy is paramount. But even the best kids can and do make bad choices.

We can teach children to benefit from all the technological advances, and there are plenty, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls. That being said,I think the key for parents and educators is to work with kids beyond the written words. Simply put, actions speak louder then words. We as adults and the kids themselves need to gain awareness and an understanding as to what is motivating their behavior. I think that only then can the words that are recited in prayer and study truly resonate in one's being.

Although psychologically painful, children who are bullied are not likely to seek help from an authority figure. In addition, cyberbullies benefit from the anonymity that the internet provides. Cyberbullies always know their target, but the target may not always be able to identify the bully. This added aspect makes the victim even less likely to seek guidance because they cannot pinpoint the direct source. These two interacting elements make it very difficult for family, friends, and others to recognize if a child is a victim of cyberbullying. — University of Michigan Sociology 102 Cyberbullying Project, 2007

Pages about Bullying on This Site

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