Public school starts Monday for most students and many of you have contacted me about cyberbullying and social networking. Here’s what you need to know:
Young people are using the Internet more than ever. Most have Internet access at home and many now have “fancy phones” that also connect them to the Internet. For many children, the Internet isn’t simply a convenient way to research or have fun after school. It’s also a big part of their social life. E-mailing and chatting with friends are children’s most common online activities. But as in many other social situations, some kids bully others online.
Cyberbullying is similar to other types of bullying, except it takes place online or through text messages sent to cellphones. Cyberbullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users. Most know their victims.
Some examples of ways kids bully online include:
▪ Sending someone mean or threatening e-mails, instant messages or text messages.
▪ Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others.
▪ Breaking into someone’s e-mail or instant message account to send cruel or untrue messages while posing as that person.
▪ Creating websites to make fun of another person, such as a classmate or teacher.
▪ Using websites to rate peers as prettiest, ugliest, etc.
Both boys and girls sometimes bully online and just as in face-to-face bullying, tend to do so in different ways. Boys more commonly bully by sending messages of a sexual nature or by threatening to fight or hurt someone. Girls more often bully by spreading rumors and by sending messages that make fun of someone or exclude others. They also tell secrets.
Effects of cyberbullying:
Victims may experience many of the same effects as children who are bullied in person, such as a drop in grades, low self-esteem, a change in interests, or depression. However cyberbullying can seem more extreme to its victims because of several factors:
▪ It occurs in the child’s home through their computer. Being bullied at home can take away the place children feel most safe.
▪ It can be harsher. Often kids say things online that they wouldn’t say in person, mainly because they can’t see the other person’s reaction.
▪ It can be far reaching. Kids can send e-mails making fun of someone to their entire class or school with a few clicks, or post them on a website for the whole world to see.
▪ It can be anonymous. Cyberbullies often hide behind screen names and e-mail addresses that don’t identify who they are. Not knowing who is responsible for bullying messages can add to a victim’s insecurity.
▪ It may seem inescapable. It may seem easy to get away from a cyberbully by just getting offline, but for some kids not going online takes away one of the major places they socialize.
Cyberbullying can be a complicated issue, especially for adults who are not as familiar with the Internet, instant messaging or chat rooms as kids. But like more conventional forms of bullying, it can be prevented when kids know how to protect themselves and parents are available to help.
Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.