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What is cyberbullying: How to recognize and prevent online bullying

Cyberbullying usually involves sending or sharing messages, videos, or photos – either directly or on social media – to make another person feel embarrassed, scared, sad, or all of the above.

While sometimes running into mean people is nothing unusual, cyberbullying is both intentional and repetitive. Those who are bullied online have done nothing to initiate such behavior and more likely than not have few or no means to defend themselves.

With the definition of cyberbullying out of the way, we’d like to offer some advice on ways how to deal with it, as well as raise awareness about the subject. As in most cases, prevention is the best cure, and understanding how you or your kid might be harmed online is the first step.

What are the most common scenarios of cyberbullying?

An NSPCC study has found that the typical upsetting scenarios that 11-16-year-olds experience or continue experiencing are as follows:

· 10% Racism

· 12% Cyberstalking

· 12% Receiving unwanted sexual messages

· 14% Pressure to look or act a certain way

· 18% Aggressive and violent language

· 22% Exclusion from social group or friendship

· 36% Trolling

NSPCC study chart

The most common forms of cyberbullying are general disrespect and ignoration. Other behaviors include pressure to send sexual messages or respond to them, homophobia, misogyny, personal information theft, and doxxing.

A whopping 90% of middle schoolers have had their emotions hurt online. About 75% admit they had visited a website to harass another student. Not all of the latter are cyberbullies, however – most are merely supporting the perpetrator by sharing or reacting to their attempt to hurt someone.

JAMA Pediatrics has found that 1 in 7 teenagers have sent nude or suggestive photos or videos, while 1 in 4 have received at least one. Additionally, 40% of middle schoolers have had their password stolen and changed by a cyberbully who then sent online messages posing as them or locked them out of their account. Approximately 21% of youths revealed they had received a demeaning email.

Cyberbullying facts and statistics

Obtaining accurate statistics on cyberbullying is easier said than done. However, what we already know is that cyberbullying rates have surpassed face-to-face bullying. It’s a complex problem that begs for solutions both on- and offline.

More than half of US teens have experienced abuse through digital media

According to another recent study, 17% of middle and high schoolers in the US had been cyberbullied within the previous month. Moreover, almost 1 in 4 have experienced cyberbullying more than once. Sadly, the National Crime Prevention Council’s report found that only 1 in 10 victims tell an adult about it.

The worst part about this silence is that the victims of cyberbullying are two to nine times more likely to contemplate suicide (based on 5 different studies). The first telltale signs of impending self-harm are poor results in school, lower self-esteem, and a depressed mood.

This is why we, as parents, have to take the initiative and talk with our kids to learn how they’re feeling when communicating with their peers in school or online. We should act immediately upon seeing them because if we’re too late, the results can be truly tragic – there have been at least 4 cases of suicide because of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying among adults

Many adults think that after they graduate from school or university, cyberbullying days are long gone. In reality, cyberbullying experienced by adults can even be worse.

Let’s say you share some personal information with a stranger. To your surprise, that stranger suddenly starts blackmailing you by saying that it’ll all go public. What’s even worse is the fact that most of the time, these cyberbullies have enough data to cyberstalk you on multiple platforms, even if you stop replying to them online.

This is why you should be careful about disclosing your personal information to someone you don’t know well, as well as learn how to stay safe online in general. When you learn how to protect yourself, you will be able to help your children learn these good habits as well.

Cyberbullying cases

Paradoxically, the ugly side of cyberbullying is often brought to the general public via the same social media platforms where instances of cyberbullying have had tragic consequences.

The most prominent examples of cyberbullying cases that led to legal action in the US include the cases of Megan Meier, Jessica Logan, and Tyler Clementi. These tragic stories show that parents, teachers, and the government can no longer stay ignorant of the dangers of cyberbullying. On the bright side, these cases have forced the government to take action in updating the legislature and have hopefully helped prevent more tragic outcomes.

Megan Meier case

Megan face

Megan Meier was being picked on by some boys at school. Not knowing what to do, the troubled girl tried to befriend the popular girls. She was hoping that the boys then would finally leave her alone. Unfortunately for Megan, the situation got even worse as the girls she befriended turned on her, leaving her no choice but to move to another school.

After Megan created a MySpace account and befriended a 16-year-old guy named Josh Evans, the situation seemed to start getting better. But shockingly, it was a fake account created by the mother of one of Megan’s former “friends,” who also helped run the account. Few would have thought that an adult would go to such lengths to help bully a teenager.

Eventually, things took an even darker turn as “Josh” became vile and even suggested the world would be a better place without Megan. To that, she responded by committing suicide.

This was the first cyberstalking case that resulted in the death of a victim. The outcome of this tragedy was the criminalization of cyberbullying in multiple states across the US.

Jessica Logan case

Jessica face

The second cyberbullying story is that of Jessica Logan, a student from Ohio who became the victim of revenge pornography and private image sharing.

It started after a breakup with her boyfriend who sent her nude picture to his friends and which soon spread all over town. Jessica managed to graduate even while being intensely cyberbullied. After visiting the funeral of a teenager who committed suicide, however, she went back home and hung herself.

Her parents sued the high school for failing to protect their daughter despite everyone knowing the cause of the bullying. The legal precedent set by this case resulted in the possibility of School Districts being held responsible for failing to protect the schoolchildren from sexual harassment. Finally, in 2012, the Jessica Logan Act came in effect in Ohio state, which now requires all schools to prohibit cyberbullying.

Tyler Clementi case

Tyler face

The third story goes from school to university and shows that cyberbullying doesn’t always stop with adulthood. Clementi’s roommate Dharun Ravi used a webcam to record Tyler kissing another man in their room and later posted it on Twitter. As if that wasn’t enough, the next day Ravi invited his followers to stream Tyler’s second date, which fortunately didn’t happen because Clementi found the camera and unplugged it.

On the third day, after filing official complaints to the university’s administration and spending some more time with the cyberbully in their shared room, Clementi drove to the George Washington Bridge and jumped off. After Clementi’s suicide, Ravi was convicted and found guilty on one count of attempted invasion of privacy.

The outcome was Rutgers University allowing students to live together regardless of gender. The case got reactions from the President and the Secretary of State. As a result of the incident, high schools that want federal funding have to implement anti-bullying procedures and codes of conduct. Tyler’s case also inspired Spirit Day, which is aimed at raising awareness of homophobic harassment and gay suicide.

Anti-cyberbullying tips

Below you’ll find several tips to help you fight the cyberbullies bothering you or your child. They may sound like common sense, but too often we forget about them or hesitate to take action. We sincerely hope that you do so before it’s too late.

1. Identify the symptoms

The reality is that many young victims of cyberbullying remain silent. They don’t tell their parents or teachers – often as a result of perceived social stigma, shame, or fear that their phone and computer privileges may be withdrawn. That’s why you, as an adult, should initiate the conversation in a safe environment. This means that your kid has to trust you first. Also, building and maintaining that trust should be the long-term goal of any parent.

The following symptoms can be a sign that your child is being bullied online or offline:

· They are reluctant to go to school

· They are suspicious of others

· They have few or no friends

· They are having problems fitting in

· They’re exhibiting undue secrecy about their digital life

· They are emotional and upset during or after using the phone or internet

· They get abnormally nervous when receiving online communications and avoiding discussions about his online activities

If you see at least one of these symptoms – be sure to talk calmly about it. You need your child’s trust so that he or she feels comfortable updating you about the situation. If you find yourself unable to gain your kid’s trust, seek help from a psychologist or even the police if the situation seems dangerous.

2. Block the cyberbully

Children, especially teens, might not even consider blocking the bully, but it’s often best to block unwanted persons online. If the bully has no way of communicating to you on the web, chances are you’ll suffer less in the future.

3. Report the cyberbully

There’s always a point where the line has been crossed, and there’s no turning back. If nothing else helps, you should report the cyberbully to the authorities. This is easier said than done because cyberbullies tend to come from the victim’s community and randomly running into them or their friends is not a pleasant experience.

Sometimes there’s just no other way. That’s why a parent has to understand that such an action might make it even harder for their kid in the short term, but it’s the best hope of resolving the situation long-term.

How to protect against cyberbullying

Stop bullying hands

When it comes to cyberbullying, prevention is always best. Prepare your kids on how to interact in an online world. For that, they have to learn the best online practices themselves, because if the child sees you not practicing what you preach, most likely they’ll also ignore your advice.

Preventing cyberbullying

Here are some important steps to prevent cyberbullying:

· Be open and communicate with your children

· Develop an interest in the devices, apps, and technology the child is using

· Teach your kids not to open emails and attachments from unknown sources

· Talk to your child how to respond if he or she experience cyberbullying.

· Teach respect and empathy for others, including in online environments

By following these steps, you should be able to reduce the risk of cyberbullying and teach your child how to have a safe online experience.

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