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Introduction

Children and teens, who are just learning to navigate social relationships, often find themselves in social situations that are fraught with awkward exchanges. When the line between normal, even acceptable, playful teasing crosses into bullying, problems arise. It’s often difficult for them, and even adults, to discern when teasing becomes bullying, and when a laughing together becomes laughing at someone else’s expense.

Simply put, bullying can be boiled down to unwanted social attention. While it can be subtle or blatant; take place online, or in public; be physical or aggressive; there are a few characteristics that can help define bullying.

What Defines Bullying?

RIP is a good mnemonic to help remember the key elements of defining bullying behavior:

Repetition

Bullying is repetitive, especially after the bullied person has asked for it to stop; thus, the bully is aware that s/he is causing the bullied person(s) physical/emotional discomfort, and furthering the power dynamic. Additionally, bullying is often focused, repeatedly, on the same person, or groups of people.

Power

Bullying is done with the intent of hurting others. This can be physically, or emotionally. A bully is fully aware that they are hurting their targets, and do it anyway.

Intent

In general, a bully (or group of bullies) is in a position of social, or physical, power over the person(s) s/he is bullying. The misconception about bullying is that it’s done only by (a) physically strong person(s), or a popular person(s).

For more on the definition of bullying, see the American Psychological Association, Stop Bullying.Gov, or the National Bullying Prevention Center.

What are Typical Behaviors of Bullies?

Bullying behaviors can range from anything to excluding others from social groups, to physical aggression. It is a wide range that includes verbal, social and physical behaviors. For example, verbal, physical and social behaviors are all included in the definition of bullying.

Physical Bullying

Physical Bullying can range from intimidation, threats, and assault. Bullies can resort to any form of violence, such as pushing, kicking, punching or other such examples.

Childhood Example: A child pushes another child down, and steals his toy, or swing, at the playground.

Teen Example: One teen accidentally-on-purpose bumps into another in the hallway, between classes, spilling his books and papers.

Daven, who was bullied as a child, tells Parents and Teens Against Bullying.org, that the constant physical abuse that he endured from his bully, such as flicking, punching, and even having his bully’s snot wiped on him, was humiliating. He describes the effect of this time as isolating, and full of self-doubt, and that like most victims of bullies, he regrets not involving an adult. Daven lived to tell his tale, and recognize that, in his words, “bullying is the weak choice,” but, according to a Yale University study, bullied victims are up to 9% more likely to consider suicide; and, in the UK, some studies have linked up to half of youth suicides to bullying.

 Verbal/Social Bullying/Relational Bullying

Verbal bullying includes harassment in the form of teasing and taunting, such as name calling, manipulation, and spreading false rumors. According to StopBullying.gov, this is meant to destroy the victim’s reputation. Perhaps, most painful, relational and social bullying is also about socially isolating a victim, and making him/her feel like they don’t belong to their peer group.

Childhood Example: You are a poopie pants! You can’t play with us because you smell bad! We don’t play with poopie pants!

Teen Example: A group of girls stops talking as soon as Jennifer approaches. Jennifer, until a few weeks ago, considered those girls her best friends. She asks what their plans are for the weekend, and the girls exchange glances with one another, snicker, and one girl replies, “um, nothing you’d want to do.” The rest of the girls laugh. Jennifer walks away, and the girls immediately start talking and laughing again.

An Anonymous girl shares that her social isolation lead to her eventual need to be home-schooled, via a cyber-program. She says that it all started with a group of girls and a rumor that spread like wildfire; the anonymous victim lost all of her friends, and became increasingly isolated by her bullies. Still, she was not at peace, because her bullies created false social media accounts to leave cruel and taunting messages and comments on her social media pages. She wasn’t safe from their isolation, even in isolation. Ultimately, when she returned to school, her bullies weren’t finished with her. She tried to stand up for herself, but to no avail. Not unlike many bullying situations, this one doesn’t simply end; it trails on and on, highlighting administrative need for no-contact and knock-it-off policies.

Online Bullying

Online bullying consists of harassing a victim through social media, text message, email and other messaging systems. It also includes using a school’s online resources, or false online accounts to destroy a person’s online reputation.

Childhood Example: Depends on the social media access a child has.

Teen Example: Nice bathing suit. Ever hear of a diet? Or the gym?

There is almost no end to the examples of online bulling stories in the media these days. For example, Hannah Smith, was taunted mercilessly regarding her weight, skin condition, and even a death in her family, on the messaging site Ask.fm, for weeks leading up to her suicide in 2013. Or, there is the story of Grace K. McComas, who was cyberbullied for months leading up to her suicide in 2012.

Online Bullying – Sexually Explicit Subcategory

Online bullying may have a sexual component, such as blackmail, as the bully may have access to compromising information or explicit content. The misconception is that the teen always sends the compromising material to the bully themselves. This isn’t always the case; and even if it were, it doesn’t, or shouldn’t matter. For example, in the case of Erin Andrews, the TV Sportscaster and personality who was famously involved in the “peephole” video and subsequent cyberbullying saga, she was videotaped, in the nude, in her hotel rooms, as she traveled for work, without her knowledge over the course of several years. Her life and career was nearly destroyed by a bully, and she continues to endure cyberbullies who tweet and message her regularly about the incident. Often, teens have photos (or videos) taken of them in bathrooms, through windows, or when they are unconscious. The very real pain at the loss of reputation, coupled with the mockery from peers, can be devastating.

Take the suicide of Jessica (Jesse) Logan, a typical, otherwise happy high school senior from Ohio, who sexted a nude to her boyfriend. They broke up, and he cruelly sent the photo to everyone at their school. She tried to soldier on, but her grades dropped, she started skipping school, and to make it through the day, she’d hide in the bathroom to avoid the students who were calling her a slut, and a whore. She even tried to make the best of a bad situation, going on a local news program as a victim’s advocate for cyberbullying, hoping to prevent something similar from happening to someone else. But, after attending the funeral for someone else, another suicide, Jesse came home and hung herself in her closet.

Who are Most Targeted for Bullying

Bullying can seem random, sometimes; but current research shows that nearly a quarter of students report being bullied. There is some data to suggest that certain types of students are at more risk for bullies than others, and certain personalities are more at risk for being bullies than others.

Students who are more likely to be bullied are generally perceived as “different” than their peers. LGBT youth, and those with disabilities, are especially at risk. However, these, and others, are protected under the law, from such provocation. For example, race, religion ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation and disability are all protected classes, under national law. Schools should all be versed on law, and have policies in place to protect these students, should conflicts arise.

Aside from the general idea of those who are less popular than the “in crowd,” students who simply don’t get along well with others, appear anxious, or are unable to defend themselves against provocation are easy targets for bullies. Of course, those who look different than others are always targets for bullies as well; this means that those who are overweight, or who dress differently, or wear their hair in a different fashion. None of the above list will necessarily guarantee that someone will be harassed, but it will certainly not help, if a bully is out to get them.

Often, educators focus on the victims of bullying, and fail to identify the types of students who can become bullies, and therefore don’t intervene before there’s a potential problem. But, it’s equally important to help the bully; according to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Group, 60 percent of boys who were bullies in middle school had a criminal conviction by 24. Shockingly, 40 percent had three or more convictions.

Bullies are born from students who are not only overly-concerned with social status, but also with dominance over their weaker peers to bolster, or mask, their own self-esteem issues. Bullies that turn to physical aggression, not surprisingly, often have issues with violent behavior, and with following rules and standards, and often “hang” with the wrong crowd. Perhaps most importantly, according to a University of Washington and Indiana University Study, administrators may be able to spot them early and intervene, by noting that bullies are far more likely to come from troubled and violent homes.

Cyber Bullying

Definition of Cyberbullying:

The same qualities of repeated, intentional, and social/psychological power plays are involved with cyberbullying. The only difference is that the bullying takes place via electronic mediums such as cell phones, computers or other electronic devices. Cyberbullying can be threatening text messages, e-mails; or, it can even rumors or information posted on public, social media sites or message boards. It can take place exclusively online; or, bullies can combine cyberbullying with traditional bullying.

Cyberstalking

It’s easy to confuse cyberbullying with cyberstalking, especially because we often hear these words used interchangeably, sometimes. It’s especially easy to become confused because cyberbullying has an element of stalking to it: the relentless messaging, the social media pages, and the ability to track the victim, online.

However, cyberstalking is a bit different. Cyberstalking is a repetitive, malicious vendetta often with no legitimate purpose, ironically against a very personal target, carried out with premeditation and obsessive zeal. Cyberstalkers disregard all warnings to stop their illegal activity, and reasonable reasons to stop (like that they are causing distress to another human being).

How is Cyberbullying Different?

Cyberbullying is, in many ways, different than “typical” bullying. Cyberbullying is primarily psychological, as it’s perpetrated through social manipulation and intimidation via messaging and interference with one’s social status through message boards and groups. The primary, and most important, difference between cyberbullying, and traditional bullying, is that it can, and often does, occur 24-hours a day. Cyberbullying takes the “repetition part of bullying to the extreme.

Victims have no respite, or safe place, from their bullies. If they are being bullied on their cell phones, their message beep can go off, even in the safety of their bedroom, even when they are asleep. If they are gaming, involved in a safe community of peer players, it can quickly be infiltrated by bullies who attack them with brutal messages, or ostracization.

Another major difference with cyberbullying is that the “power” may not be the same typical social or physical imbalance that a typical bully has over their victim. Instead, a cyberbully may have access to virtual information, such as an “incriminating,” message, e-mail, or photograph that the victim doesn’t want anyone else to see. This is still an imbalance of power, but not in the traditional sense. It changes the power dynamic, and makes power somewhat of a grey area in the bully/victim relationship, as the bully may have access to this information because they were formerly close, or even intimate, with their victim.

Cyberbullying and Sex

Worst of all, much of cyber bullying, especially among older students, is sometimes sexually motivated, or sexually graphic. Even if untrue, cyber bullying can spread false rumors, ruining reputations through social groups. While the CDC reports that sexual promiscuity among teens is down, with an average of less than 30% of teens having engaged in sexual activity in the previous three months, 21% of those surveyed had been drinking or doing drugs, prior to sexual activity. With inhibitions lowered, photos, texts and videos are a problem.

The subjects of the new Netflix document documentary, Audrie and Daisy (2016), are teenage girls who both admit to drinking more than they normally would one night. These girls learn the hard way that the boys they thought they trusted to care for them at their worst are only lying in wait for their weakest moments, snapping photos of them as they disrobe them, probe their nude bodies, and then spreading videos, texts or rumors around their respective schools. Audrie’s will doesn’t withstand the torturous rigor of the texts, emails and constant shaming she feels at the loss of her reputation; she commits suicide. Daisy attempts to kill herself several times, especially when she learns that her perpetrators will not face sexual assault charges, and she’s called a liar and a whore by her fellow students, former friends via text and message, relentelessly.

However, not all victims of cyberbullying find online contact distressing. In fact, according to the Second Youth Internet Safety Survey, 38% of students weren’t bothered by being harassed online. It was only when online harassment crossed into offline harassment as well, did they feel upset by e-bullying.

Importance of Cyberbullying

Estimates of victims of cyberbullying vary; some studies find as many as 40% of students have reported incidents of cyberbullying. According to the CDC, 15% of high school students have reported being electronically bullied, in the past year; and, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 7% of students between grades 6-12 experienced cyber-bullying. Noting that cyberbullying appears to more than double, when restricted to high school students, but is reported early, begs intervention and knowledge regarding how students are engaging, and how to intervene as early as possible.

Cyberbullying.org conducted a study that made it especially clear to students what the definition of cyberbullying is. They told students that cyberbullying meant “repeatedly mak[ing] fun of another person online, or repeatedly pick[ing] on another person through email or text message; or when someone posts something online about another person that they don’t like.” With this definition, about 25% of 10,000 randomly selected 11-18 year olds reported that they’d been cyberbullied (over the past seven years); but only 12% in the past year (January 2014). 17% admitted to cyberbullying others in the past seven years; and only 4% admitted to bullying others in the past year.

This data tells us that while we may have been behind, figuring out this arena where students have been harassing their peers, programs and procedures that are designed to target and reduce it, are working. Therefore, we need to continue to both recognize and highlight cyberbullying as a problem, and we need to work toward positive and effective solutions to eliminate it.

Identifying Cyberbullying

Identifying cyberbullying starts by realizing that you need to look for both victims and bullies. Unlike traditional bullying, victims and bullies share some similar behaviors, such as hiding their phone screens from teachers, quickly minimizing computer browser windows from adults, or refuses to discuss their online activity with adults (or others). However, victims and bullies do behave differently in other ways.

 Identifying Cyberbullies

  • Seems to have multiple accounts, or access to others’ accounts
  • Uses electronic devices at all hours of the day, especially (and including) at night
  • Expresses inappropriate anger at limits on electronic device usage

 Identifying Cyberbully Victims

  • Generalized increase in anxiety, depression or frustration
  • Increased anger, frustration or depression after using electronic media
  • Refusal to talk with parents or teachers about online activities
  • Stops using electronic devices
  • Withdrawal from social, or even home, activity

In this video, despite some of the out dated technology, we see many the examples of a “typical,” cyberbully, and a “typical,” cyberbullying victim. The bully makes attempts to socially isolate the victim, makes him feel socially inferior, and is cruel. The victim withdraws at home, seems sad and refuses to discuss his problem with his mother, quickly hiding all evidence.

Identifying Cyberbullying Culture

According to recent data, students are less likely to report cyberbullying when their school promotes a climate with safe peer-to-peer relationships, and a generally safe environment. Currently, there is not enough research on this nebulous topic; but according to Cyberbyullying.org, students who agreed with statements such as, “feel[ing] safe at school,” feel[ing] that teachers at their school really try to help them succeed,” and “feel[ing] that teachers at their school care about them,” were less likely to report either being victims of cyberbullying, or being cyberbullies themselves. The good news, is that while incidents of cyberbullying are up more than 50 percent in the last five years, nearly 70 percent of students who felt harassed sought help from a trusted friend, parent, or other adult authority figure, leaving room for trusted practices to work.

If You See Something, Say Something

There’s no room for bystanders in bullying. With over 80% of teens using a cell phone, it’s difficult to catch; but, that’s why it’s important for adults to be engaged in the lives of young people and adolescents. Ask questions. Be involved. Notice when things are different. Quite simply: pay attention. And remember, bystanders are victims too. Bystanders report symptoms of anxiety, guilt and shame associated with incidents of bullying.

How to Help in a Cyber Bullying Situation

There’s a relatively simple list of items/ideas that can help in any cyberbullying situation:

Form Relationships

Be a friend to youth. Or, encourage your children to have an adult friend. It’s okay if your children feel more comfortable confiding in a coach, or teacher; just make sure they feel comfortable confiding in someone.

Talk it Out

Mediation can sometimes help resolve a bullying situation, if it’s a misunderstanding that has blown out of proportion. Attempt a talk-it-out situation carefully, if you engage a trained counselor as a mediator and you are confident that violence won’t escalate.

Go Online

Make sure you visit websites that your children frequent, with them, and learn the ins and outs of the pages. Get to know their online “friends,” and be aware of their online activity. Know when things change.

Teach Them Appropriate Responses

It’s never a good idea to add fuel to a fire; so, teach your children not to respond to cyberbullies. Don’t give them any information, respond to any messages, or let them know that they are bothering you. In many ways, this is not much different than traditional bullying; as emotional as it may seem, leaving it alone, may be the best answer.

Evidence

Despite the grey areas of the laws, cyberbullying and cyberstalking are against the law. While there is some potential shame and fear associated with cyberbullying, especially if it’s related to sexual activity, or rule-breaking such as underage drinking or drug use, it’s vital that kids and teens are instructed to never delete any harassing messages.

Report

All online services, such as Facebook, or even Craigslist, have reporting services to report unauthorized, or inappropriate usage, and cyberbullying. Without screenshots and evidence, it’s almost impossible to enforce their policies, however. Utilize their reporting services, and provide them with the evidence you’ve saved to quickly put an end to “small” incidents of cyberbullying.

Utilize Law Enforcement

Most schools have resource officers; engage them, and make sure they are aware of incidents of cyberbullying among the students in their purview. More importantly, make sure that they are aware of the laws that govern cyberbullying in their state, and how to enforce them. Resource officers are specially trained to deal with students and adolescents; sometimes, simply allowing the resource officer to intervene is enough to scare the cyberbully into stopping, rather than engaging criminal charges. However, if activity continues, or if harassment is especially malicious, engage the entire team and report activity to the local and state authorities.

Knock-it-Off Policy and No-Contact

If the bullying is especially pervasive or violent, and as such is affecting the learning environment, it is important to make sure that students are supervised and kept apart as much as possible, both to protect their safety, and to keep other students from being affected. It’s important to make sure that the situation is left to fizzle, rather than ignite. An adult can be provided to walk a student to class, to sit nearby, but not necessarily with the student, in the cafeteria, for example.

Appoint Staff at Every Level

An anti-bullying task manager or team manager should be assigned at the elementary through high school level to work with faculty, administrators, counselors and staff to be kept abreast of all new information in the field, and to have “boots on the ground,” as it were, with the students. Engage a staff member who cares about bullying, stopping it, and about student mental health.

Recognize Limits of “Zero-Tolerance” Programs

Zero-tolerance sounds good on paper, and it sounds good to parents; but, for kids it can sound scary and it can make them afraid to report bullying for fear of reprisal, perhaps even fearing that they may be disciplined themselves, as part of the bullying scenario. Zero tolerance policies have their merits, but it’s important to recognize their limits when dealing with complex bullying scenarios, adolescents and teens.

Engage Parents

Parents are a valuable resource. In many cases, they will be the ones who will be able to tell you if the student’s eating, sleeping, or behavior habits have drastically changed, which will help sound the alarm to a more serious situation. Additionally, parents are a great resource to help reinforce school policy; as administrators you want them on your team, so listen to their needs and be conscious of them. Their primary concern, and yours, is stopping their child’s hurt.

Engage the Community

Community leaders, especially city and county leaders such as mayors and city council members have taken strong roles in speaking out against anti-bullying. Take the time to engage them in speaking at your school, or in writing letters to your students. Engage your local sports teams, or other civic leaders to form a culture of anti-bullying at your school.

Environment

The best way to prevent bullying, of any kind, is to create an environment where bullying isn’t tolerated or condoned. In an ideal world, this is easy. All students love one another, and everyone gets along. There’s no gossip, everyone’s a star athlete, plays in the school band, and gets straight A’s. But, that’s not how it works. So, StompOutBullying, makes these Top 20 suggestions for “Stomping Out” Bullying in your school:

  1. Don’t laugh
  2. Don’t encourage the bully
  3. Stay at a safe distance, and help the target get away
  4. Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
  5. Reach out and become a friend to a bullying victim
  6. Help the victim in any way that you can
  7. Support the victim in private
  8. If you notice someone being isolated, invite them to join you
  9. Include the victim in some of your activities
  10. Tell an adult if you see bullying, or are being bullied
  11. Encourage your school to participate in bullying or cyberbullying prevention programs
  12. Start a peer mentoring program at school
  13. Raise awareness of bullying and cyberbullying prevention in your community
  14. Teach friends about being more tolerant of others, even if they are different
  15. Ask your school to set up a private box where kids who are bullied can report it, anonymously
  16. Get someone to sponsor a conflict resolution team
  17. Encourage school administrators to adopt Internet-use policies that address online hate, harassment and pornography
  18. Create events in your school and community to raise anti-bullying, and bullying prevention awareness.
  19. Create bullying prevention awareness posters for your school
  20. Stand up and do something when you hear someone making jokes or comments about: someone’s sexual identity, family member(s), weight, clothing, skin color, accent, or disability.

Stomping Out

Sit with Us

Consider allowing the use of smart phones, especially with apps like SitWithUs, an app designed especially for bullied kids, by a teenager, a victim of bullying herself. The app is designed for kids with no one to sit with in the school cafeteria; they can designate themselves as “alone,” and hope that someone else, an ambassador, will see their avatar and invite them to their table, or vice versa. So far, it’s being used in lunchrooms across the country, and even internationally. It prevents kids from being openly rejected, if they stroll up to a table, and try to make a new friend, while simultaneously being invited to be friends with new people. It means never having to eat alone, and never being rejected.

Cyberbullying and the Law

Currently, cyberbullying is covered at the state level. All states have laws covering cyberbullying, but there is a wide range of what is allowable, for prosecution, or what is considered legal, or protected, under the letter of the law. The Cyberbullying Research Center keeps an updated, interactive map of what states have what laws, including those proposed.

Importantly, laws must consider the fact that cyberbullying can occur both on and off campus. So, laws have to be proposed in such a way that educators have to make a determination whether cyberbullying that happens off campus is having a noticeable detrimental effect on the learning environment on campus. To understand the confusion, realize that states either have decided on criminal sanctions, school sanctions, school policy, or an off-campus policy (or a combination of these).

These terms can be confusing, because they all sound so similar.

Sanction

A threatened penalty for disobeying.

Criminal Sanctions

Because cyberbullying (and bullying) can be classified as a crime, it is subject to criminal punishments.

School Sanctions

Schools get to create and adopt their own disciplinary measures and policies.

School Policy

The bullying law requires all states, apart from Montana, to set an anti-bullying policy to both identify behaviors and disciplinary policies.

School Sanctions

In some states, the bullying law gives the school latitude to discipline students in certain appropriate ways.

Off-Campus

As mentioned above, schools are allowed to discipline students for off-campus behavior, if they’ve determined that it disrupts the on-campus learning environment.

California has a “Yes” in all four categories above, for example; as does New Jersey, Louisiana and Pennsylvania and Tennessee. However, states like Wyoming are only 50% yes and 50% no. There are wide variations from state-to-state.

In some cases, felony harassment charges can be brought against cyberbullies; but, there is currently no federal laws against cyberbullying, specifically. The only specific federal laws, are those that can be brought against protected classes, as mentioned in Section 1. Protected classes, such as those with disabilities, LGBT, or minorities should be versed in the following federal laws. School administrators and staff should obviously be equally aware.

Cyberbullying Education

Education and information is part of the answer to stopping cyberbullying. Teaching our kids how to respond to harassment properly, and teaching our kids how not to bully, is a big part of the solution. So, how soon is too soon to teach kids about cyberbullying?

Kid’s Health recommends framing discussions about bullying, in general, as early as Pre-K, in age-appropriate ways. Eyes On Bullying agrees, pointing out that, often, people overlook early childhood years in bullying prevention, because they underestimate both children’s intelligence, and their emotional maturity. Teach InCntrl promotes cyberbullying education for all students across all areas of the curriculum.

Bullying in very young children can look very different, however, with a strong tendency toward subtle bullying for girls and physical bullying for boys. In an example described in their book, Dr. Storey and Dr. Slaby describe a scenario in which a preschool girl, sitting at lunch begins a game in which she questions the children at her table, requiring them to raise their hands for affirmative responses with prompts like, “who likes X, Y, Z.” All of her prompts are things that all children would be sure to respond in the affirmative to, such as candy, movies and the like. But, when she gets to the end of her inquiries, she asks, “and who likes Madeline?” This is the beginning of social bullying.

hey suggest bullying education for children begin as early as preschool with social skills education, while they develop the language skills to express the feelings they are having. It’s important to catch bullying behaviors while they are happening and reappoint them into appropriate social interactions. Story time and circle, or morning meeting time, they suggest, is a good time to use examples and engagement to point out appropriate ways to interact with peers, and to define the line between teasing and taunting.

Additionally, they recommend the key life skills of empathy, problem solving and assertiveness to both address bullying, and to prevent becoming one. To learn empathy, they suggest that students learn to label their feelings and that they learn to compare themselves to others in a way that helps them appreciate their differences. Additionally, helping others to feel better teaches children to feel better about themselves, and helps reinforce the “golden rule.” Problem solving activities, such as team-work, and rudimentary what-if scenarios help preschoolers learn to deal with frustration in a safe environment to build their self-confidence. Assertion activities, such as teaching kids to keep their cool, and role-playing response scenarios, and learning when to ignore and when to get help are important tools for preschoolers to both build their self-esteem, and to understand the complexities of bullying scenarios.

Counseling and Resources for Victims

There are several, national anti-bullying resource centers set up to both provide information, and to direct victims, parents, and educators to required resources. For example, the Victims of Crime Resource Center Hotline is reachable at 1-800-Victims, and through their website. Additionally, The Cyberbullying Research Center provides links to not only report bullying on all major social media sites, but also information and resources to victims, nationwide. StopBullying.gov also provides access to both information and links to both national phone number databanks, and links to local counselors.

StompOutBullying is a national website with a 24-7 web-chat service for teens to find access to help for support about bullying. Trained counselors monitor the chat room to provide support and assistance to teens who are looking for advice. Additionally, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s (AACP) website provides a clearinghouse of both information about bullying and cyberbullying, but also links to resources and links to counseling services in your child’s area.

 Cyberbullying on Social Media and  Popular Websites

New social media sites pop up seemingly every day. And, just as quickly fade away. Keeping up with what your tweens and tweens are doing online, and who they are doing it with, is important to helping them avoid both their being cyberbullied, or becoming one. For example, a newer(ish) social media site, Musical.ly has taken social media by storm, often outranking Snapchat and Instagram in the App Store. Musical.ly, a seemingly harmless video sharing site, where people can lip-sync to their favorite tunes, is no different than other social media sites, in terms of potential for cyberbullying or predatory danger. Privacy and user settings, and parental oversight can go a long way in preventing many dangerous, and harassment situations.

Facebook

While it seems, sometimes, that Facebook set the gold standard for social media, it seems that teens began migrating away from it sometime ago. Still, they have a bullying prevention hub, especially targeted at teens. In their hub is access to a PDF, which includes step-by-step instructions and conversation starter ideas for teens who have found themselves in harassment scenarios.

The first step, is always to unfriend someone who is bothering you, and block offensive people. Of course, if there are false accounts out there, this can become problematic, and like cutting the head off of a hydra, but start there. And, FB warns that blocking is reciprocal, so you won’t be able to see what they post about you anymore, which can make you feel antsy, wondering if, on their page, false information about you is spreading like wildfire, now that you can’t see it anymore. Still, FB warns that the best steps are to stay calm and not to retaliate. They suggest that if there is something you find particularly offensive, you can delete it from the areas of FB that you have access to, but warn to save things you may need as evidence, if required. Additionally, they provide scripts and prompts to start conversations with people about how to calmly approach online bullies.

Interestingly, the provide the opposite side of the scenario. They provide resources for the bully. They consider what it might be like to be approached by a victim, and be blindsided as a bully, perhaps not even aware that they’ve committed an offensive act. They provide advice for the bully and suggest the most appropriate behaviors if you have been told that you’ve done something offensive to another person. For example, they suggest that you take the other person’s feelings into account, before you get angry and offended, and that the first thing you should do is apologize.

Get access to the entire PDF here. There’s also an area with links and suggestions for parents.

YouTube

Block and Delete. The most common advice of any website is going to start with these simple instructions. If you are being bothered by “troll,” especially in an isolated incident, which, on a site like YouTube is the most likely scenario, the first place they advise starting is to delete offending comments, or to ask the user to do so, and block offensive users. YouTube does have specific polices against hate speech; for example, they do not allow violence or hate speech against anyone based on race or ethnic origin, relation, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity. They also have specific policies against setting up fake accounts, “Impersonation,” and any suspicion of such accounts should be reported immediately. YouTube also has very strict policies against Child Endangerment as it applies to depicting sex with minors, so sharing videos of underage children engaged in any sexual activity, is strictly prohibited and should absolutely be reported, especially as it pertains to cyberbullying situations. In these cases, being a bystander is against the law, not only against YouTube policy.

However, the rest of YouTube policy is a little greyer. For example, their policy regarding sexually explicit content is prohibitive when it comes to violent, humiliating or graphic fetish, but is inclusive when it comes to nudity when it is educational, documentary or artistic. Additionally, its graphic or violent content policy is essentially a free pass, so long as its journalistic, and especially if the title is descriptive and/or there is an especially clear warning to viewers.

Threats are taken seriously, and they caution that law enforcement should be engaged immediately; however. But, their policy on harmful or dangerous content, such as videos of drug use or of dangerous “challenges” such as the choking challenge, they deem allowable if the primary purpose is educational, documentary or scientific. Finally, they caution that the best way to avoid anything you don’t want to see is the block and delete button.

Instagram

Because of Instagram’s user settings, and communication settings, it’s particularly easy for cyberbullies to contact, and harass their victims, in various ways. For example, users can add cruel comments and hashtags to user’s photos, or create unflattering photos and attach them to a user’s photo/profile. Instagram has a reporting process for harassment and bullying.

Snapchat

Snapchat’s 10-second-and-it’s-gone makes it both easier, and more difficult for cyberbullies. It allows them to take incriminating photos, sometimes without the victim even realizing it, and send harassment without evidence lasting long enough to be traced. However, with quick knowledge of how to take a screenshot, a victim can track harassment, and there’s a way to stop the onslaught of constant messages. Snapchat has community guidelines, such as no pornography, and protecting someone’s privacy, such as not taking pics without someone else’s knowledge. And, Snapchat’s policy is no screenshots, despite their anti-bullying stance. It’s a nebulous arena. Still, they also have a reporting area; but also recommend a block first policy.

Snapchat does have policies to protect user’s privacy, and to prevent bullying. Primarily, to prevent cyberbullying, they do not allow for invasions of privacy, such as taking snaps of others without their knowledge. Additionally, they don’t allow for impersonation, much like YouTube, which means creating fake accounts, even to impersonate celebrities. Finally, they have a strict no-harassment policy, which means once someone has blocked you, you may not continue to harass them from another account, or from a new account. Their no-nudity policy, especially for those under 18 can contribute to a no-bullying environment by not allowing for embarrassing content, because it even prohibits sexually explicit drawings on otherwise benign snaps.

Twitter

According to both Buzzfeed News, and CIO, Twitter’s refusal to appropriately deal with cyberbullying and online abuse and harassment has drug the social media giant to near death. Twitter promises a revamp and an absolute focus on the issue. Their current advice starts with the same advice as the others: ignore, block and unfollow. They do have a reporting process on their website.

Skype

Skype’s online communities are a great way to meet and befriend all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons, with all kinds of interests; however, there are all kinds of ways to find trouble when the world is so big. Communities on Skype can often help police themselves, with members reporting to one another when they are having trouble, and using the block and ignore feature. But, like all other social media features, Skype also has a report feature, depending on which interface you are using.

Messenger or Other Forums

Messenger and other chat forums rely on a community standard of “knowing” who you are talking to, rather than primarily stranger interaction, such as YouTube. The best way to avoid harassment is to be engaged with friends and people you are comfortable with, not with strangers. However, like all teens and tweens, social groups change, and falling outs occur, which can spill over into an online community setting. Again, ignore, block and delete when there’s trouble. If there’s evidence, save it. If there’s serious trouble, report it.

Data and Statistics

Much can be drawn from the raw data provided by bullying surveys. The primary data-gatherers on this topic are the CDC, The National Center for Education Statistics, and The Cyberbullying Research Center. Each of these sources compiles and gathers separate, but equally important sets of data that give us vital information.

When looked at, over time, from 2007, through 2016, the rate of reported cyberbullying offenders has declined sharply from 19.1% to 12.0% of students reporting self-reporting; however, the rates also fluctuate significantly from year to year, sometimes as much as 5-7%. Cyberbullying.org compiles data from ten different studies to gather an average of roughly 15.8% students who reported cyberbullying others, across the 9-year study period, with a low of 11.5% reporting in 2009, with an especially low sample class size. Intriguingly, the study compilation shows a sharp decrease in bullies self-reporting in 2009, suggesting that cyber bullying education has been helpful, but then an uptick to outpace 2007 numbers in 2010, and nearly again in 2011. It’s baffling to educators to figure out what works, and what doesn’t, to prevent bullying, when numbers like this present themselves over long spaces of time.

Intriguingly, victimization rates are nearly double the self-reporting rates for bullies, which suggests that either bullies are bullying more than one victim, that victims feel victimized by actions that bullies don’t necessarily feel is bullying, or that bullies are under-reporting. And, unlike the chaotic rise and fall of the bully self-reporting, victimization rates seem on a steady climb since 2007, with the exception of two slight dips in 2010 and 2013. The average reporting rate for victims, compiled over ten studies from cyberbullying.org is 27.9% and includes cyber bullying in all forms, such as e-mail, in the classroom, and over other electronic media.

An interesting comparison to note is the difference between reported victimization rates between middle schoolers and lifetime victimization rates. The rate doubles (or even triples) in almost all cases. This suggest an almost “grace” period in middle school where educators might be able to reach students and target bullying education, before the problem erupts.

Cyber bullying does not appear to discriminate for gender. Unlike other types of bullying where, for example, physical aggression is more typically associated with males, and social aggression is more typically associated with females, cyber bullying is more equally distributed. Both genders appear to be equally associated with cyber bullying behaviors. The disassociated connection with screens makes it easier for both genders to engage with behaviors that they may not otherwise engage in, if they were faced with an individual, making it easier for both genders to engage in cyber bullying behaviors; it’s like it’s simultaneously happening to both a real, and a not-real person.

Subsequently, victims of cyberbullying are also, mostly, equally spread amongst gender. There’s a slightly larger number of reported lifetime female cyber bully victims, but in general, victims are equally spread between male and female, especially amongst the middle school population. This suggests, once again, that the magic moment to reach the student population with cyber bullying education is at the beginning of middle school.

According to cyberbullying.org, middle schoolers use the Internet for a wide variety of purposes, and in descending order, it’s first and foremost for online games and homework, and lastly for chat rooms. Having data like this helps educators fine-tune education programs and gear bullying messages for their students based on what they know their students will be using and where they might be encountering bullying messages.

 Conclusion and Recommendations

Cyber bullying is part of a complex puzzle that, if reduced, improves student performance and success. But, we cannot forget things like the value of parental involvement, drug and alcohol education, other education on other teen behaviors that can affect student life, like sex education. For example, according to the CDC, for example, 10% of teens (over the age of 12) have used illicit drugs in the past month. And, it’s easy to forget, but many students come to school without having eaten a decent meal; in states like Missouri, over 20% of homes have food insecurity, not knowing where their next meal comes from. Alas, cyber bullying is a very important part of a student’s success, but it’s not the only piece of their puzzle.

And, in fact, determining the other pieces, and addressing those, may help suss out the cyber bullying problem. If a student is being bullied for being so-called promiscuous, for example; or, if a student is being bullied because he wears second-hand clothes; or, if a student is being bullied for getting bad grades; it’s obvious that knowing students is helpful. Additionally, having the appropriate district, counseling, and support services is vital to student success in all cases. There is no “stop bullying,” or even “zero tolerance,” in most cases. It is not as simple as enforcing a consequence, or mending a fence; it requires support for the victim, and likely for the bully.

Additionally, based on evidence, bullying education in primary and middle school grades is vital in prevention. As we become more screen-dependent, our children will be versed earlier in technology. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics’ newly revised, and recently released, guidelines about screen time for young children, parents will continue to expose children to technology at younger ages, until they are practically programming satellites in the crib. If we are to expect our children to understand the limitless joy and knowledge that technology can bring, it is incumbent upon us to teach them the limitless responsibility that comes with it as well, including the responsibility they bear, as in all things, to not cause others pain.