By Marcia Kelly
If the word “bullying” makes you think of one child picking on another in the schoolyard, it may be time to update your image of this important problem. While such face-to-face harassment certainly still exists, new ways of bullying have emerged. With the proliferation of cell phones, instant messaging, social networking Web sites such as MySpace, and other technologies, bullying has muscled its way into cyberspace.
Cyberbullying, as this new technological danger is called, may already have happened to your child. According to a study done by wiredsafety.org, 90 percent of middle-school students say they have been the victims of this new form of bullying. Perhaps more sobering, only 15 percent of parents even know what cyberbullying is, according to another study by the group.
Cyberbullying: What it is and how it works
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, hurt, embarrass, humiliate, or intimidate another person. It can be done anonymously, which makes it easy for one child to hurt another and not be held accountable or see the impact of his or her actions. Because this technology reaches a wider audience than just the person who is targeted, its effects can be devastating.
This form of bullying can take place in many ways. For example, some young people have discovered sites where they can create a free Web page—including one intended to bully another child. Embarrassing pictures, private instant messaging (IM) exchanges, and hateful or threatening messages can be posted on these sites. Some young people also post mean comments at legitimate Web sites’ guest books. Others post blogs (short for “Web logs”), information that is instantly published to a Web site. Bullies have found blogging to be a powerful tool when encouraging peers to gang up on another child.
Cyberbullies, like schoolyard bullies, look for targets who are vulnerable, socially isolated, and may not understand social norms.
Many children with disabilities have these characteristics, and so they may be especially vulnerable to cyberbullying.
Your 3-step plan to protect your children from cyberbullying Today’s children are the first generation to experience cyberbullying. Today’s parents are the first to figure out how to respond to the problem.
As you venture into this new territory, here are some tips that you may find helpful, says Julie Hertzog, PACER’s bullying prevention project coordinator.