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The (Virtual) Reality of Bullying Today

By December 2, 2018Bullying, Digital Citizenship

They don’t make them like they used to, and we’re not talking about your appliances. What we are talking about is bullies. Maybe you faced bullies when you were growing up. Maybe you were a bully. But either way, the odds are that nothing you saw or did as a child compares to one of today’s big bullying behaviors: cyberbullying.

You might be able to guess what it means – cyber= technology, bully = bully. But if that’s where you stop thinking, you will be missing out on a big part of a very important picture.

Traditional Bullying

When you think of bullying, you might picture kids on a playground pushing and punching. You might see a circle of kids arranged around one teen calling another teen names. And these behaviors are bullying. But that’s not where bullying stops.

Bullying has lots of forms. The two biggies most people think of are physical (pushing, punching and other actions done with the body) and verbal (name calling, yelling, teasing, etc.).

But bullying goes beyond there. It can be social too – using the power of groups to cause another person harm. It might be starting rumors, leaving someone out, or trying to get others to ignore someone and other things.

In short, if it causes fear, harm, trauma, anxiety, or depression, it’s bullying.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to intimidate or threaten another person. That includes computers, phones, tablets, social media, chat rooms, and even online games. It can be an ongoing occurrence as traditional bullying is, but even one instance of cyberbullying can be enough to put a teen in a bad place.

What makes it so bad?

Unlike in-person bullying, cyberbullying can happen only one time and still be devastating. The effects of harmful behaviors on the internet are immediate, can be seen by millions, and have a lasting effect. Because we are so connected over technology, even one instance of bullying can make a kid feel like the entire world knows and has seen what went on.

Not only that, but often with cyber bullying a child does not know who to confront. An anonymous smiley face on a hurtful comment still cuts the heart, but a little yellow emoji is hardly an identifying photo. On top of that, the words online never go away. Anyone who tries can dig them up, even if they get erased. But the words live on in the hearts and minds of the kids who have been bullied. And those words follow the victim no matter where they go. They can read the words online at school, at home, and anyplace they have access to a cell phone or other technological device. They can’t find safety anywhere.

Why do kids cyberbully?

That’s a difficult and complex question to answer. Kids bully for lots of different reasons. (We will discuss some of them in a future blog post.) But why cyberbully? Why choose technology as a vehicle for harm?

First of all, hiding behind a screen is easier than facing problems. Would you rather face a computer screen or an eight-foot giant? The screen is easier to face. (That’s true in good ways too, which is why BASE education uses a technological interface to ask kids tough questions and gets answers, where face to face conversations may not yield the same results.)

When you’re hiding behind a screen, you can also stay anonymous, which is another reason bullying over technology may seem like a better choice to the one throwing their weight around. If you are punching someone or saying hurtful words to them, anybody within a mile radius can see who is doing the bullying. But when kids bully anonymously via technology, they don’t have to have the negative attention directed at them. They can feel powerful without feeling guilty.

And if the bully feels less-than-themselves when they cause harm via technology, it should be no surprise that the victim seems less like a real person to them as well. When the target of bullying is on the other end of the screen, kids tend to feel like what they are doing isn’t as bad as if they were doing it in person, like it doesn’t hurt or matter as much. Not true for the person on the other end.

How can parents/adults help?

The first thing you can do to help your teen is to educate yourself about bullying today. That’s what you’re doing by reading this post, and we commend you for it. You can’t fix something if you don’t know what is wrong.

Second, you can educate your teen. Sometimes, kids don’t even realize behavior they are doing or witnessing is bullying. I have personal experience on this point. I was in my 30’s before I realized the girl who sat next to me in fifth grade was bullying me. Better late than never? Maybe. But don’t let your child rest in the seat of ignorance. Talk about the different types of bullying – particularly social bulling, which can be harder to recognize than verbal or physical, and talk about how bullying can happen through technology.

Ask your child questions. Do you really know what is going on in their school? With their friends? You won’t if you don’t ask. Start your conversation with the intent to learn from your child, and then listen when they do share. Don’t bombard them with advice or dismiss their concerns. Pay attention to their answers, and ask follow up questions when appropriate.

Once you know their concerns, help your teen address them. Assists with setting accounts to private, taking screen shots of bullying interactions online (whether they involve your child or not), and contacting phone and internet providers when you see bullying happen are all practical ways to help your child decrease the bullying quotient in their world.

Talk to your kid’s school and make sure they are educating the student body about bullying and cyber bullying. BASE Education has designed bullying and cyber bullying courses for kids grades three through twelve. Make sure your school has something like that in place. Educating today’s young people about what bullying is and how they can play a positive role in stopping it will make a difference.

Remember that much of cyber bullying today is actually illegal. Know what is against the law and how to contact your internet and cell providers. They can help remove bullying material and even take more severe measures to ensure actions like this don’t happen to your child again.

Remember, kids do want to help.

Just about every kid you ask will say they want bullying to end. And lots of kids are willing to take the necessary steps to make it happen. That is IF they knew what to do. And that’s where you can play a big role in your child’s life. By educating yourself and then educating your child, you will both be taking positive steps toward making their world a happier, more peaceful, more accepting place. And what a world that would be.

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