Bulletin #4102, Understanding Cyber Bullying

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teen sitting cross-legged on ground with open laptop and talking into a cellphone

By Kristy L. Ouellette, Extension Educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

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New technology is being created every minute and the Internet is now widely available. Youth in today’s world are exposed to technology—each and every day. While new technology is exciting, a form of bullying behavior is becoming more prevalent in our society: Cyber Bullying. During a recent 4-H event in Maine, 56% of youth reported that they or a close friend have been the target of cyber bullying in the past year.

What is Cyber Bullying?

Cyber bullying, also known as electronic bullying or online social cruelty, is defined as bullying

  • through e-mail;
  • through instant messaging;
  • in a chat room;
  • on a Web site or gaming site; and
  • through digital messages, text message or images sent to a cellular phone.

Cyber bullying not only looks and feels a bit different than traditional bullying, but presents some unique challenges in dealing with it. (Kowalski, Limber and Agatston, 2007)

Young people spend a good portion of their day in school, but the most influential people in their lives are their caregivers; peers are a very close second, but caregivers are still first. Here are some tips of how to stay connected with your child in this ever changing world filled with technology.

1. Talk to your child.

One bullying prevention expert insightfully described the challenge facing adults who are trying to communicate with young people about technology: “The problem is that adults view the internet as a mechanism to find information. Young people view the Internet as a place. Caregivers are encouraged to ask their children where they are going and who they are going with whenever they leave the house. They should take the same approach when their child goes on the Internet—where are they going and who are they with?” Young people are sometimes reluctant to disclose victimization for fear of having their Internet and cellular phone privileges revoked. Parents/ caregivers should talk with their teens to come up with a solution to prevent or address victimization that does not punish the teen for his or her victimization.

2. Develop rules.

Together with your child, develop rules about acceptable and safe behavior for all the electronic media they use and what they should do if they become a victim of cyber bullying (electronic aggression) or they witness or know about another teen being victimized.

3. Explore the Internet.

Once you have talked to your child and discovered which Web sites he/she frequents, visit them yourself. This will help you understand where your child has “been” when he/she visits the website and will help you understand the pros and cons of the various Web sites. Remember that most Web sites and online activities are beneficial. They help young people learn new information, interact with and learn about people from diverse backgrounds, and express themselves to others who may have similar thoughts and experiences. Technology is not going away, so forbidding young people to access electronic media may not be a good long-term solution. Together, parents and youth can come up with ways to maximize the benefits of technology and decrease its risks.

4. Talk with other parents/caregivers.

Talk to others about how they have discussed technology use with their teens, the rules they have developed, and how they stay informed about their child’s technology use. Others can comment on strategies they used effectively and those that did not work very well.

5. Encourage your school or school district to conduct a class for caregivers about Cyber Bullying.

The class should include a review of school or district policies on the topic, recent incidents in the community, and resources available to caregivers who have concerns.

6. Keep current.

Technology changes rapidly, and so it is important to keep current on what new devices and features your child is using, and in what ways. Many developers of new products offer information and classes to keep people aware of advances. Additionally, existing Web sites change, and new Web sites develop all the time, so continually talk with your teen about “where they are going” and explore these Web sites yourself. Your adolescent may also be an important resource for information, and having your teen educate you may help strengthen parent-child communication and bonding, which is important for other adolescent health issues as well.

Adapted From: Hertz MF, David-Ferdon C. Electronic Media and Youth Violence: A CDC Issue Brief for Educators and Caregivers. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control; 2008.

There are many wonderful resources available to youth and caregivers regarding cyber bullying. One resource is the Cyberbullying Research Center. There you will find resources to help keep your family current and up to date with the latest trends and technologies. Remember, technology is not going away but together, parents and youth can come up with ways to maximize the benefits of technology and decrease its risks.

Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2010

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