Back to school, back to cyberbullying?
While most students are not too happy with the fact that they have to go back to school, some are really dreading it. The reason? Bullying.
We’ve got news for you: Bullying doesn’t stop at school anymore
Sadly bullying is no longer just restricted to the playground in schools. Thanks to the connected world your kids can become a victim everywhere, anytime. While you should not go into an immediate panic mode and try to control every aspect of your kid’s digital live it is still important to be aware of the dangers and signs of cyberbullying.
What is cyberbullying
As the word already implies, cyberbullying is a kind of bullying that takes place online, via tools like social media pages, chats, text messages, etc. It is also important to note that cyberbullying is something that takes only place between kids and youths. If an adult is involved it is harassment, plain and simple.
The huge difference to the bullying of old is:
Constant connectivity – bullying can take place at all times of the day, seven days a week
As mentioned above cyberbullying takes place on the net. Since the internet never sleeps, attacks can happen all the time from everywhere. While some years ago kids still were able to flee home to get some peace and leave the bullies behind, it’s not an option anymore nowadays, thanks to the internet.
The internet is full of trolls and bullies. The reason for it being a breeding ground for such individuals is plain and simple: anonymity. No one needs to out themselves with their real name. This makes bullies feel safe and strong and encourages them to do things a “regular” bully would never have dared to.
Ok – that might not sound that different from what it used to be – but stop and think for a second. While the mob consisted of perhaps 10 kids back in the days, it now is huge. If a mobbing video goes viral there is no end to the people who will see it and make fun of the poor “star”.
How does Cyberbullying work?
The possibilities seem sheer endless. Let me name a few, but be aware that this list is far from complete:
With all the instant messaging tools at their disposal – be it the Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SMS, or any of the others – writing mean messages is as easy as ever. Some kids write evil things on purpose, others don’t even notice that their message could potentially be hurtful. Some bullies go even so far as to send death threats.
What could be better than to pretend to be the victim itself? That way no one will ever know that you were even involved. By writing mean messages about others as the victim, embarrassing “oneself”, or posting offensive or very personal information a lot of harm can be done.
Videos and images
Remember those images that some mean students took of you in the locker room? It was horrible, right? And it’s even worse today. It doesn’t just stop with a couple of friends who’ll see the image if it ever gets developed (not saying that that wasn’t already emotionally scarring enought, but it’s even worse today!): Now with just a tap of your finger a mail or message is being send to all your online friends, mailing lists, and social media contacts.
What are the consequences?
As you can imagine, being bullied like that is just as or even more scarring to kids than the bullying of old. While some children can cope with it better than others, it is not unusual for victims to display aggressive behavior, become emotionally detached, and to skip school. Sometimes it even leads to depression and – if worst comes to worst – suicidal tendencies if not attempts.
What can you do?
That is the question every responsible grown-up will and should ask him or herself at this point. While normal bullying was easy to get a handle on – after all you could just go to the parents of the bully or to the school to make sure they stop it – it is way more complicated now. The bully could be anonymous, the bullying isn’t done on school grounds, etc. You get the picture.
While you cannot eliminate cyberbulling, there are a couple of things that can be helpful though:
Talk with your kids
This might be the single most important thing you can do. There is nothing worse than if kids are left alone to figure out those kind of things on their own. You can talk upfront with your children and warn them about cyberbullying. If you notice that your kid is being bullied the need to talk about what is happening is even bigger. Always make sure that the child understands that it’s not his or her fault. If needed, seek out professional help.
Know what’s going on
No, don’t spy on your kid. That’s not what it means. But make sure you know what kind of apps or social media sites your child is using. If it is ok with him or her, follow or befriend your kid there (but make sure you don’t embarrass them afterwards !). Explain what privacy means and go over some of the settings together so that not too many personal information are out in the open and up for grabs.
Set rules and limits
Kids should not be glued to their smartphone or PC all the time, no matter if the child is a victim of cyberbullying or not. Agree to some rules and enforce them if necessary. There are also tools and programs out there that help you limit the access to apps, for example during school or when your child should be learning. Take a look at Avira AppLock+ for example, and how it can help you.