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Cyber Bullying is serious harassment that can cause serious consequences, including an increased risk for mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, lowered self esteem and an increased risk of substance abuse and school drop-out. Learn more about the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of cyber bullying and learn what you can do to make it stop when it’s happening to you, or to someone you love.

Cyber bullying is best defined as when a person or a group of people repeatedly use communications technologies to harass, gossip about, threaten, humiliate, or otherwise bully a victim.

Although harassment can occur as an isolated incident, for this cyber harassment to qualify as cyber bullying – the harassment, taunting or threats must occur repeatedly, over a period of time, and the bully or bullies must have the intent to cause harm or pain to their victim.

Cyber bullying can occur over email or IM, through texts or pictures or videos sent over mobile phones, on social networking sites, like Facebook or Twitter, on anonymous chat rooms and on internet forums. Some examples of common cyber bullying tactics include:

  • Creating a fake Facebook page for another person – complete with correct name, unflattering photos and correct contact info.
  • Spreading anonymous rumors about a certain person on internet forums or in local chat rooms
  • Sending bulk emails or texts to pass unflattering or private pictures or videos of a victim
  • Hacking into a victim’s social networking account to post disturbing or sexually explicit comments on the profiles of others

Who Does It?

While we sometimes hear disturbing accounts of adults cyber bullying teens and even children – in most cases, the bullying is done between people of a similar age group.

Cyber bullying is most often perpetrated and aimed at teens and preteens during the last years of middle school and the first years of high school.1

What Are the Consequences of Cyber Bullying?

While in the past bully victims could at least get some respite from the harassment while at home, today’s victims are at the mercy of their bullies 24 hours a day – 7 days a week, and in addition to that, the audience for cyber bullying can be much larger than a few classmates laughing on the playground, in some horrific cases, cyber bullying videos have become internet hits and been seen by millions.

The consequences of cyber bullying can be lasting and severe, and can include:

  • An increased risk of depression
  • Lowered self esteem
  • Physical health problems
  • An increased risk to use and abuse drugs or alcohol
  • An increased risk of school truancy or school drop out
  • An increased risk to do poorly at school

Obviously when consequences can be as severe and life changing as drug or alcohol abuse, school non completion or an increased risk of mental illness – cyber bullying cannot be tolerated as a normal part of today’s teenage experience and parents and teen bystanders need to do all that they can to minimize the occurrences of online harassment.

How to Deal with a Cyber Bully

Dealing with Cyber Bullies

  • Talk to your parents, your teacher or another trusted adult for help. You do not deserve to be harassed in person or online and you do not have to deal with this situation alone.
  • Do not respond online. Cyber bullies are looking to get a reaction out of you, and by getting into an online fight, you’re giving them exactly the kind of drama and excitement they’re going for. You can take steps against those that harass you online, but you won’t likely have much success through a direct peer to peer battle.
  • If your password has been compromised, make sure to reset all of your passwords. If a fake profile has been created in your name, contact the hosting site to ask that it be taken down.
  • If you can, block emails, IM’s or texts from those that harass you
  • Save the evidence of harassment. Keep a file to store copies of harassing emails, texts or comments. This evidence can be important in proving the ongoing nature of the bullying.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

  • Talk to your kids about the importance of online privacy and the need to keep email and social networking site passwords safe and confidential – even amongst close friends.
  • Stress the importance of logging out of email and social networking accounts when finished on shared computers. To a bully - access to your email or social networking account is an invitation to do a lot of damage.
  • Stay involved in your child’s life. Since much of life today occurs online – this means that you as a parent need to know what your child does in the online universe!
  • Talk to your child about acceptable behaviors online (they are the same as acceptable behaviors offline) and encourage your child to share with you should they experience anything unsettling while on the computer.
  •  If your child is the victim of persistent bullying, limiting the times they are allowed to use their computer or cell phone while at home may be a way to enforce a daily break from the abuse. It’s not a perfect solution nor should it be all you do, but giving a child a few hours a day of mandated breathing space can really make a positive difference2
  • Remind teens that sharing personal or even explicit photographs with a trusted boyfriend or girlfriend can lead to devastating cyber bullying should those photos ever get rebroadcast
  • If the perpetrators are known to your child, you should try talking with teachers and school officials about what’s going on. Most schools have strict anti-bullying polices in place and most of these cover bullying that occurs during and after school hours. In general, you’ll have much better luck working with school officials than you will should you try confronting the parents of the bully or bullies directly.
  • Teach your kids the importance of good bystander behaviors. Bullies thrive on the approval of an audience and when bystanders openly disapprove of bullying tactics, the bullying is likely to stop. Teach your children to act out against bullying by refusing to pass along mean-spirited or gossipy forwarded messages, adding positive comments to the refute negative comments on a bully victim’s social networking page or by reporting the bullying behaviors to a trusted adult.3

When is Cyber Bullying a Crime?

Sometimes cyber bullying crosses a line from mean-spirited (but unfortunately legal) harassment and turns into a criminal matter. Call the police if:

  • You receive threats of violence online
  • You are under 18 and are being harassed by an adult online. In most jurisdictions, this is known as cyber stalking or cyber harassment and this is a criminal offense that can result in jail time for the perpetrator

In many jurisdictions, cyber bullying crimes are prosecuted under existing bullying statutes – but this is changing as more states adopt specific rules of conduct for online activities. The laws can be complicated, so when you think you may be the victim of a crime, the best thing to do is to contact the police or prosecutor’s office, and let them decide whether or not they can proceed with pressing charges.

References
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Page last updated Jul 16, 2015

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