Cyberbullying, the practice of harassing another individual through digital channels such as email, instant/text messaging, and social networking websites, affects roughly one in five children.
At times it has led to tragic results such as the recent suicide of Australian teenager Chanelle Rae, who took her own life after nasty messages were circulated online about her appearance. The problem has received national attention in the U.S. as well with a series of highly publicized incidents, including the recent introduction of the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act named after a 13-year-old who committed suicide in 2006 after an online harassment campaign initiated by a friend’s mother.
According to Sameer Hinduja, co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying ups the ante on the age-old practice of bullying in several ways. First, victims often do not know who the bully is or why they are being targeted. The cyberbully can cloak his or her identity behind a computer or cell phone using anonymous email addresses or pseudonymous screen names. Second, the hurtful actions of a cyberbully are viral, enabling an entire school to be involved in a cyber-attack or at least find out about the incident with a few keystrokes. This can add immeasurably to the victim’s trauma.
To deal with cyberbullying, InternetSafety.com and Hinduja recommend strategies such as:
- Working together with the child to arrive at a mutually agreeable course of action, including soliciting input from the child for resolving the situation.
- When necessary, explaining the importance of scheduling a meeting with school administrators (or a trusted teacher) to discuss the matter.
- Refraining from immediately banning access to instant messaging, e-mail, social networking Web sites, or the Internet in general. This strategy neither addresses the underlying interpersonal conflict nor eliminates current or future instances of cyberbullying victimization. It will also likely close off a candid line of communication and promote overt defiance of the ban for children accustomed to frequent online access.
- Paying even greater attention to victimized children’s Internet and cell phone activities.
- Considering installing parental control filtering software and/or an online tracking program to block emails from known cyberbullies, monitor and record online chat sessions, or in extreme cases block IM, email or social networking sites completely. Over 70% of teens surveyed by the National Crime Prevention Council reported that being able to block cyberbullies was the most effective method of prevention.