Last update: 07.04.2019
Cyberbullying, just like its real-life counterpart, is a serious problem that severely impacts our children and adults. Usually, it involves sending or sharing messages, photos, or videos to make another person feel embarrassed, scared, sad, or all at the same time. Cyberbullying doesn’t have to be direct – sometimes, spreading rumors or posting harmful content on social media is enough to cause a great deal of pain.
We all run into mean people from time to time, but in the case of cyberbullying, the upsetting behavior is both intentional and repetitive. Therefore, we should take this seriously and look for the best way to deal with it. The bullied person often has few means of defending themselves, has done nothing to initiate such behavior, and no one deserves to be bullied anyway.
We want to dedicate this article to raising awareness about cyberbullying, while also offering some advice on ways to deal with it. 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 typical scenarios of cyberbullying?
According to an NSPCC study, these are the most common upsetting scenarios that 11-16-year-olds experience or continue experiencing:
- 36% Trolling
- 22% Exclusion from social group or friendship
- 18% Aggressive and violent language
- 14% Pressure to look or act a certain way
- 12% Cyberstalking
- 12% Receiving unwanted sexual messages
- 10% Racism
General disrespect or ignoration are the most common forms of cyberbullying. Other behaviors include personal information theft, the pressure to send sexual messages or respond to them, misogyny, and homophobia. These numbers clearly show that we’re not doing enough to stop cyberbullying.
90% of middle schoolers have had their emotions hurt online. About 75% admitted they had visited a website to harass another student. Not all of the latter are cyberbullies – most are merely supporting the initiator by sharing or reacting to his or her attempt to hurt someone.
JAMA Pediatrics has found that 1 of 7 teenagers has sent nude or semi-nude photos or videos and 1 of 4 has received at least one. Additionally, 40% of middle school students have had their password stolen and changed by a bully who then sent online communication 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 cyberbullying statistics is tricky. But what we already know is that cyberbullying rates have surpassed face-to-face bullying. It’s a complex problem that needs both online and offline solutions.
More than 50% of US teens said that they had experienced abuse through digital media
Another recent study of middle and high schoolers in the US has found that 17% had been cyberbullied within the previous month. Also, almost 1 in 4 have experienced it more than once. But only 1 in 10 victims tells an adult about it, as per National Crime Prevention Council’s report. That’s why we, as parents, have to take the initiative and talk with our children to learn how they’re feeling when communicating with their peers in school or online.
The worst part about this silence is an increased risk of self-harm – victims of cyberbullying are two to nine times more likely to contemplate suicide (based on 5 different studies). The first telltale signs are poor results in school, lower self-esteem, and a depressed mood. Parents should act immediately upon seeing them because there have been at least 4 cases of suicide because of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying among adults
Many adults think those cyberbullying days are long gone. In reality, the cyberbullying that adults experience might even be worse.
Let’s say you share some personal information with a stranger who suddenly starts blackmailing you by saying that it’ll all go public. The problem with adult cyberbullies is that most of the time, they have enough data to cyberstalk you on multiple platforms, even if you stop replying to him on the online dating app or website.
That’s why you should be careful about disclosing your personal information to someone you don’t know well and learn how to stay safe online in general. When you know how to protect yourself, you’ll be able to help your kids learn these good habits too.
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 Megan Meier, Jessica Logan, and Tyler Clementi cases. These tragic stories show that parents, teachers, and the government can no longer stay unaware of the dangers of cyberbullying. On the bright side, they have forced the government to take action in updating the legislature and have hopefully helped to prevent some of the most tragic outcomes of cyberbullying.
Megan Meier case
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 then the boys would finally leave her alone. Unfortunately for Megan, the situation got even worse as the girls turned on her, leaving her no choice but to move to another school.
The situation seemed to start getting better after Megan created a MySpace account and befriended a 16-year-old guy named Josh Evans. 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 bully a teenager.
Eventually, things took a turn for the worse 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
The second 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 under intense bullying, but later, after visiting the funeral of a teenager who committed suicide, 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 made it so that School Districts can be 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
The third story goes from school to university, demonstrating 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 the second date of Tyler, which fortunately didn’t happen because Clementi found and unplugged the camera.
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 the suicide of Clementi, 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. It also inspired Spirit Day, which is aimed at raising the awareness of gay-related suicide and harassment.
Below you will find three 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 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 child has to trust you first, and building and maintaining that trust should be a long-term goal of any parent.
These symptoms can be a sign that your child is being bullied:
- They have few or no friends
- They are suspicious of others
- They are having problems fitting in
- They are reluctant to go to school
- They are emotional and upset during or after using the phone or internet
- They’re exhibiting undue secrecy about their digital life
- They get abnormally nervous when getting 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 trust, seek third-party 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 a bully, but it’s often best to block unwanted persons on the web. If the bully has no way to communicate to you online, chances are you will 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 running into him or his friends randomly is far from 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.
How to protect oneself against cyberbullying
In the matter of cyberbullying, prevention is always best. Prepare children on how to interact in an online world. For that, they must learn the best online practices themselves, because if the kid sees you not practicing what you preach, most likely she will also ignore your advice.
Here are some important steps to prevent cyberbullying:
- Discuss what cyberbullying is
- Talk to your child how to respond if he or she experience cyberbullying.
- Teach respect and empathy for others, including in online environments
- 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
By following these steps, you should be able to reduce the risk of cyberbullying and have a safe online experience.