With cyber bullying being a topic generating so much concern and publicity recently, I think it’s useful to take a step back and look at what it’s really all about. If you’re concerned about your children either being cyber bullied, or perhaps even being cyber bullies themselves, this information is made with you in mind.
What Is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber bullying is commonly defined as bullying through the use of electronic devices. It takes many different forms, can and does happen on many different platforms (such as social media, instant messaging and online games), and unfortunately it’s very common among tweens and teens all over the world.
Bullying by definition does not mean one nasty comment towards another person. It has to be ongoing behaviour by one person that upsets another person.
How Is Cyber Bullying Different?
For many reasons, cyber bullying is usually a lot worse than old-fashioned bullying at school. Cyber bullying is much more difficult to escape from as it follows you around on whatever devices you’re using.
The behaviour that people engage in online is often far worse than those same people would ever engage in face-to-face – unfortunately hiding behind a screen encourages some people to say much meaner things than they normally would.
Further, many kids believe that they are anonymous online, so can get away with behaviour that would otherwise see them thrown out of their school.
Is Technology To Blame?
I think this is a really interesting question. Certainly cyber bullying wouldn’t be possible without technology or the internet, which of course is why it never existed decades ago. However technology is simply a means to allow cyber bullying to happen; it’s not the cause of the behaviour.
Look at guns, for example. A gun allows someone to shoot another person, injuring them or worst case killing them. However, if you put a gun in a well adjusted, happy person’s hands, are they going to suddenly walk around town shooting people? Of course not!
Conversely, if you take a person who is emotionally unstable, perhaps suffering from some psychological issues, who is determined to hurt someone, do they need a gun to do it? While a gun might be useful for the purpose, if the intention is there, there are plenty of other ways to inflict harm or even death on another person in the absence of a gun.
Clearly then, cyber bullying is not about technology; it’s about behaviour.
Who Engages In Cyber Bullying?
Many characteristics of a cyber bully are the same as a physical bully, and as such there are lots of children who will unfortunately engage in both types of bullying at the same time. However there are a percentage of cyber bullies out there who would never engage in physical bullying, but are empowered by the ability to hurt other people while hiding behind a screen.
Rather than looking to punish cyber bullies for clearly engaging in unacceptable behaviour, it’s more constructive to look at the reasoning behind their actions. Most perpetrators of cyber bullying are victims themselves, often lacking self-confidence and self-esteem. They mistakenly believe that they will feel better if they make others feel bad.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not justifying the behaviour of a bully or a cyber bully in any way, shape or form. Bullying another person online or offline is completely unacceptable, period. I also completely understand that if your child is a victim of cyber bullying you probably don’t care about the reasoning behind it; you just want it to stop.
All I’m saying is that there are two sides to every story, and that finding out the other side provides an opportunity to get to the root cause of the behaviour that needs to stop. That may not undo the damage that has been done, but it may at least allow everyone involved to start the healing process and move forward more constructively with life.
A Typical Cyber Bully
Often a person who cyber bullies others was previously a victim of another cyber bully. Having seen first hand that it’s not a very pleasant position to be in, they’re determined not to go back there. They believe that by perpetrating the very behaviour they are most fearful of, they won’t be on the receiving end of it again.
A very sad situation I heard about was in a high school where a student committed suicide due to cyber bullying. Her parents were obviously devastated and completely consumed by grief.
The deceased had a sister who had seen what her sister had endured leading up to her suicide, and was determined to do anything humanly possible to avoid going through a similar experience.
So the sister decided to take the upper hand and cyber bully others. She was relentless; not only was she spurred on by the idea of refusing to be a victim, but she was also desperately trying to gain the attention of her parents.
From this situation it’s clear that everyone is a victim, and that punishing the sister isn’t going to solve the problem. She doesn’t need to be expelled from school; she needs counseling, or psychological help to deal with the loss of her sister. And she needs help to understand that harassing other children the way her sister was harassed won’t help her (and isn’t fair to anyone else), and that her behaviour is unacceptable.
What To Do About Cyber Bullying
Obviously it’s important to take action straight away if your child is involved in cyber bullying. However to an extent there’s a right way and a wrong way to respond if you find out cyber bullying is affecting your child. You’ll find plenty of useful tips to make sure you respond effectively in our article on how to stop cyber bullying
For more information about cyber bullying, or any aspect of keeping your children safe online, feel free to sign up for my next webinar here. It’s free and packed full of very useful information that could have a huge positive impact in your family life.