Cyberbullying is defined by Merriam-Webster as the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (such as a student), often done anonymously. According to Sherri Gordon, nearly half of all teens have experienced cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying impacts the school environment, including educators, parents, bullies, victims and bystanders. Educators, students and parents must understand what cyberbullying is and how to respond to it. Although cyberbullying may occur after school hours, the consequences infiltrate the learning environment during the day, causing high levels of anxiety, worry and a deficit in concentration among impacted students. Victims of cyberbullying report lower grades and other academic problems.
There are six primary ways kids cyberbully others. It can occur by harassing someone; impersonating someone; using photographs, creating websites, blogs or polls; sharing videos; and engaging in subtweeting (tweeting about an individual without naming them) or vaguebooking (posting a vague Facebook status update that prompts friends to ask what’s going on). Cyberbullying causes emotional and psychological distress. Victims experience fear, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. In addition, victims feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, powerless, humiliated, isolated and disinterested in life.
According to Pamela Anderson, senior research associate with ETR, there are several reasons victims of cyberbullying do not tell anyone. Often, victims feel ashamed and feel pressure to be quiet. In addition, they may be concerned about what others may think and afraid the bully may retaliate. Others, sometimes, assume adults expect them to deal with it or are concerned no one will believe them. Some students are worried about being labeled a “snitch” or fear adults will limit digital access.
There are many reasons students cyberbully others. Often, the cyberbully is motivated by revenge or the belief that the victim deserves it. Other times, the bully may do it in order to give in to peer pressure, to alleviate boredom or because of a lack of empathy. Some cyberbullies reported they thought everyone was doing it or they wanted to gain power over a victim.
In an effort to combat cyberbullying, Anderson states teachers can integrate conversations about cyberbullying into lessons about violence, self-esteem, seeking help and standing up for friends or preventing bullying. Parents can utilize resources like stopbullying.gov.
The technological sophistication of young people is a great strength in addressing cyberbullying. Hopefully we can use this positive attribute to create a stronger, safer, more positive online world.