Thursday, October 28, 2010

From the Source: Cyber-Bullying Education is Good Manners

According to the National Crime Prevention Center, over 40% of all teenagers with Internet access have reported being bullied online during the past year. 58% of 4th graders through 8th graders, also reported having mean or cruel things being said to them online. The increasing number of suicides related to cyber-bullying incidents has made us take notice of how devastating the effects of online humiliation can actually be. As a result, we thought it was imperative to check in with educator and expert, Lori Getz of Cyber Education Consultants, to help both parents and children acquire tools about cyber-bullying prevention.

BHM: What is “Cyber-bullying?”
Lori Getz: Cyber-bullying is the act of bullying online. The actual behavior isn’t much different from traditional schoolyard bullying, but the different medium makes the consequences far more severe. Cyber-bullying consists of: (1) sending mean, hurtful or threatening messages via electronic communication (e-mail, IM, text, posts to social networking sites),(2) pretending to be someone you’re not in order to embarrass or harass a person, (3) pretending to be someone you’re not in order to gain access to personal information and (4) posting pictures or video of another person in order to harass or embarrass that person.

BHM: What should children do if they become victims of Cyber-bullying?
Lori Getz: The truth is that the question is not what to do IF your kids get caught up in a cyber-bullying incident but what to do WHEN it happens. Cyber-bullying has become a ubiquitous part of online teen life, and it’s virtually impossible to avoid or protect your children from encountering (unless you keep them offline, homeschooled, and virtually in a closet). The important thing is to understand it, be able to recognize it, and know how to teach your children to deal with it.

BHM: How does Cyber-bullying differ from schoolyard bullying?
Lori Getz: The consequences of cyber-bullying are more severe because: (1) The victim has no safe place! Usually, a child can retreat to his or her home to escape the bullying. But with cyber-bullying, the harassment is always following them on their phones and computers. (2) The victim sees the messages over and over again! Victims of cyber-bullying tend to continue to read the hurtful messages in order to try and figure out why the bully is sending them. This repetitive confusion and self-doubt has a severe effect on the child. (3) Cyber-bullying is viral! Schoolyard bullying usually only involves a few individuals. With cyber-bullying, however, the whole world is privy to the child’s humiliation.

BHM: Are there different types of bullies?
Lori Getz: Yes. The most common types are listed below.
1. The Controlling Bully: This bully believes that in order to maintain relationships with peers, they must control them. We have all seen this bully — the one who no one really likes, but who seems popular because no one wants to be his or her next target.
2. The Victim-Turned-Bully: In order to retaliate against a bully, the victim sometimes becomes the aggressor. This is VERY common in cyber-bullying — and why it’s so important that we teach our children to “Stop, Block and Report.”
3. The “Mean Girl” (or Boy): This bully believes that putting down others is funny and will make others laugh — thereby increasing their own popularity status.
4. The “I Didn’t Mean To” Bully: This bully doesn’t see himself or herself as a bully. They are often being careless and thoughtless and do not consider the impact of their actions. This bully will often feel remorse when confronted with how their actions affected others.

BHM: Most people believe that bullying is motivated by jealousy and insecurity. Is this true?
Lori Getz: Bullies are not necessarily motivated by jealousy (although there are some cases of this). They are most often motivated by a severe dislike of an individual and/or the need for control. We must make sure that we explain this to our children, so we can give them the appropriate advice when dealing with a bully. If we teach our children to think they can fix the bully, we put them in situations where they will not win! You can’t stop a bully from controlling others. You can’t make a bully like his or her victim. Retaliating in kind won’t work, either, because the victim will never be meaner than the bully. You can’t even ignore a bully. None of this works. The only way to empower victims is to tell them the truth about why they’re being bullied, and then help them take back control by rebuilding their own self-esteem, finding a safe group of friends and reporting the bullying to the appropriate agency (a parent, school, social-networking site or even law enforcement) to deal with.

BHM: How can victims of Cyber-bullying protect themselves?
Lori Getz: Teach victims to “Stop, Block and Report“
1. ”Stop“: Tell your child, “Do not respond to cyberbullying.” You don’t want your child to inadvertently become a bully because they lash out in defense. Although bullies deserve to be dealt with (and as a former victim, I would like to see them all get their fair comeuppances), that task should not fall to the victim. It’s also tempting as a parent to expend time and effort trying to “get the bully that hurt your child” — especially when the cyber-bullying happens anonymously. But how will exposing the culprit help your child? Now they’ll just know who it is that hates them so much. Although you may choose to handle the situation as you see fit behind-the-scenes, make sure you’re also focusing on what will help your children rebuild their self-esteem and get past the situation.
2. “Block“: Teach your children how to stop the cyberbully from sending any more messages. If the bullying is happening anonymously, then your child should shut down the application being used to transmit the messages. They may even want to shut down their e-mail, IM or social-networking accounts and start over again with a smaller group of friends they know they can trust. You can block individuals from e-mail, IM and text messages (for that you may have to call the cell phone provider).
3. “Report“: Encourage your child to print out the entire conversation and tell someone! Hopefully, they’ll tell you first — although a 2008 study found that many teens didn’t tell their parents about cyber-bullying because they were afraid they’d take away the technology. Parents, please remember that cyber-bullying is a behavior! Let’s treat the behavior — not the technology! Most websites (including gaming and social-networking sites) have a way to report abuse. That should be the first reporting you and your child do together. Depending on the site and the degree of bullying, they may do everything from warning the culprit to shutting down an account to contacting law enforcement. Different states have different laws about cyber-bullying. However, if your child is being threatened online, contact local law enforcement immediately!

BHM: Is there anything else parents should know about Cyber-bullying?
Lori Getz: Talk to your children about their role in a cyber-bullying situation. There are typically one of four roles being played: (1) The Bully: The person directly involved in the malicious act (as described above), (2) The Victim: The person directly affected by the bullying, (3) The Bystander: The person who, while not directly involved, is aware of the situation and does nothing to stop it and (4) The Advocate: The person who, while not directly involved, chooses to stand up to the bully and attempt to stop the taunting, teasing or harassment. Take time to role-play, allowing your children to experience all four roles so they can decide the best course of action when it comes to cyber-bullying. Talk to them about what it means to be respectful — both in the physical realm and online. Also, it’s important that you model positive, respectful behavior in the home. (Bullies often learn aggressive behavior in the home, whether from a parent or a sibling.) Your children should have a predefined plan for dealing with cyber-bullying. That way, they’ll have a mental path to follow should they ever find themselves in a cyber-bullying situation. We don’t want them trying to come up with a plan on the fly: Impulsive actions often lead to more harm than good. It’s the well-thought-out plan that stops cyber-bullying!

Lori Getz
Cyber Education Consultants