Cyberbullying: Bullying with Technologies
by Diane S. Kendall
Today's news often warns of dangers on the Internet, and recent
news stories relate cases of how kids are being nasty, or worse, to
each other online. To be sure, there are bullies online, just like
there are in everyday life. These bullies may be classmates of your
children, kids in the community, people your children have never
actually met, or your own children. What they've learned to do is to
use technologies such as the Internet and cell phones to hurt the
feelings of others.
You probably remember bullies from when you were in school, or
perhaps your children have had unpleasant experiences with bullies on
the playground, in the locker room, or on the telephone. Bullies
don't do their "thing" when teachers or other adults are around; they
haven't the courage. And now they've discovered that they can
apply their inappropriate actions digitally in an almost
anonymous way. They've been known to use user names and passwords of
others to send cruel messages to their targets, they've set up Web
pages that humiliate, they've found out secrets about others and
posted them in online discussion groups and blogs, they've sent
threats through Instant Messages, they've taken revealing photos of
others and sent them through cell phonesyou name it, and some
bully's probably thought of it.
What these computer and cell phone-age bullies are doing is not
actually different in content than what bullies have always done. Do
you remember the "slam books" or class books that kids used to pass
around to the "cool" kids so that they could rate those they
considered "uncool"? These types of cruel activities can now be
posted online as kids poll each other about what they think of
others. By posting online or sending to mailing lists through
computers or phones, bullying today has taken on wider audiences. No
longer is the bullying just between a few kids or groups in a
classroom. What the bully writes, for example, about your children,
can be posted online for everyone in the world to see. Of course,
everyone in the world would not be interested in it, but it's the
kids your children know who will see it, and that, plus the mistaken
idea your children get about not having any friends, is what is so
Does That Mean You Throw Out Your Internet Service and Your
No. No more than you'd keep your child away from school or the
soccer team or any other place where bullies may be. That doesn't
mean you overlook it either. The best defense is always an
understanding of the situation and a good offense.
It's wise not to think that every horror story you read or watch
in the media is about to happen to your children. All children will
not be targeted by a cyberbully. Sure, lots of kids will "stretch the
envelope" with improper language or by sending inappropriate graphics
to each other. Middle schoolers, and even younger kids, often try to
test foul language with each other through email and Instant
messaging, just like they used to (and still do) with notes that
were/are passed around the classroom. You'll have to deal with that,
but it's not cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is when a kid or group of kids set out to hurt
another through words and pictures. It can take many formsemail
messages, chat room comments, Instant Messages, Web pages, telephone
calls or pictures, online discussions or blog postings, etc.and
its purpose is to make someone feel awful. Children who practice safe
use of technologies, don't give out personal information, and ignore
the first advances of a cyberbully are far less likely to be
continuing targets of a bully. Children who are very sensitive (wear
their hearts on their sleeves) and like to confide in others online
are more likely to be targeted. Bullies love to get a reaction, and
they like to use personal "secrets" against others.
So What's a Good Parent to Do?
Sites that May Be of Interest
- Realize that although you can set up all sorts of filters
and monitors on your kids' computers, that the very best filter and
monitor is youthe parent. It's not realistic with older kids to
be looking over their shoulder all the time, but you should have a
general idea of what they are doing on the computer or with their
cell phones. Keep up an on-going discussion with them about their
work with technologies. Make sure your children's computers are in
places where you can see what they are doing on them when you walk
- Set up expectations for your children's use of computers, the
Internet, and cell phones. Your rules should include times when
technologies may be used, and about chatting, emailing, Instant
Messaging, the giving out of personal information, posting
information online, acceptable Websites, Buddy lists, etc. Examples
of rules might be: Never give anyone, even someone you consider a
good friend, your username and password; do not use Instant Messaging
or enter a chat room after [put in a time]; use appropriate language
at all times; do not download or open files from people you don't
know (this includes people you've only met online); etc.
- Make sure there are consequences if your children do not follow
the expectations that have been set up by your family. These might
include: taking away Internet privileges, taking away use of cell
phones, only working on the computer when supervised, not allowing
Instant Messaging, etc.
- Recognize signs that your children may be targets of a
cyberbully. Your children may not want to go to school, may want to
stay home instead of interacting with others, may get upset when
using the computer, may be preoccupied with concerns about
friendships, etc. Remember that some children will feel so
embarrassed by what the cyberbully is "saying" about them, that they
will try to keep the problem to themselves. No matter whether these
problems are the result of cyberbullying or not, they are significant
problems you'll want to discuss with your children so that you can
- Recognize signs that your children may be cyberbullies. These
might include: getting calls from the school or other parents about
your children's behavior online or on the telephone; hearing your
children put down others that are not in their group; finding that
your children brag about knowing the passwords or other personal
information of others, etc.
- Starting when your children first use computers, telephones,
and the Internet, encourage them to let you know right away if
anything they encounter makes them feel uneasy or threatened.
And when they come to you, keep in mind that comments about
friendships, which are obviously disturbing to them, may seem "silly"
to you. Take their worries seriously and help them understand how to
deal with the problem.
- Make sure your children understand that they may come in
contact with people who are bullies, and that the best way of
stopping a bully is not to react to what the bully is doing. If
bullies get no reaction, they'll usually move on.
- If your children are being bullied, they need to be assured
that they are not the only ones who are being targeted by the bully.
Knowing that they are not the only ones the bully is harassing is
very important to their self-esteem, as is understanding what types
of kids engage in this behavior.
- If your children are victims of a cyberbully, save all evidence
of the bullying. Print any nasty messages, content of Websites, etc.
Use this information when you contact organizations such as schools,
Online Services, telephone companies, Internet Service Providers,
Websites, the police, etc. about what has happened to your
- Keep in mind, if your children are targets of a cyberbully,
that it is most important that they understand these two things: It
is not their fault that they are being targeted, and what the bully
is saying about them is not true. Let them know that you are behind
them as will be most of the other kids they know.
Features examples of cyberbullying and what can be done about it.
Guides for parents and teachers.
Internet Superheroes: Cyberbullying
Includes lots of information about handling online bullies.
Software that tracks where messages come from.
National PTA: Cyberbullyings
Guidelines from the Parent Teachers Association.
Parry Aftab: Cyberbullying
A privacy/Internet lawyer explains the problems of cyberbullying.