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Cyberbullying (page 3)

— U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

What are the most common methods of cyber bullying?

In recent studies of middle and high school students, (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2006; Kowalski et al., 2005; Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2006) the most common way that children and youth reported being cyberbullied was through instant messaging. Somewhat less common ways involved the use of chat rooms, e-mails, and messages posted on web sites. A study of younger children (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2006) showed that they were most often bullied through e-mail, comments on a web site, or in a chat room.

Where are children and youth cyber bullied?

In a recent telephone survey of preteens (6-11 year-olds) and teens (12-17 year-olds) (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2006):

  • 45% of preteens and 30% of teens who had been cyber bullied received the messages while at school;
  • 44% of preteens and 70% of teens who had been cyber bullied received the messages at home; and
  • 34% of preteens and 25% of teens who had been cyber bullied received the messages while at a friend's house.

Do children tell others if they are cyber bullied?

According to one telephone survey of preteens and teens (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2006):

  • 51% of preteens but only 35% of teens who had been cyber bullied had told their parents about their experience;
  • 27% of preteens and only 9% of teens who had been cyber bullied had told a teacher;
  • 44% of preteens and 72% of teens who had been cyber bullied had told a friend;
  • 31% of preteens and 35% of teens who had been cyber bullied had told a brother or sister; and
  • 16% of preteens and teens who had been cyber bullied had told no one.

How does cyber bullying differ from other traditional forms of bullying?

Although there is little research yet on cyber bullying among children and youth, available research and experience suggest that cyber bullying may differ from more “traditional” forms of bullying in a number of ways (Willard, 2005), including:

  • Cyber bullying can occur any time of the day or night;
  • Cyber bullying messages and images can be distributed quickly to a very wide audience;
  • Children and youth can be anonymous when cyber bullying, which makes it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to trace them;

What can adults do to prevent and address cyber bullying?

Adults seldom are present in the online environments frequented by children and youth. Therefore, it is extremely important that adults pay close attention to the cyber bullying and the activities of children and youth when using these new technologies.

Suggestions for parents*

Tips to help prevent cyber bullying:

  • Keep your home computer(s) in easily viewable places , such as a family room or kitchen.
  • Talk regularly with your child about on-line activities he or she is involved in.
    • Talk specifically about cyber bullying and encourage your child to tell you immediately if he or she is the victim of cyber bullying, cyberstalking, or other illegal or troublesome on-line behavior.  View the Campaign’s webisodes with your child and discuss in particular webisode #5 that addresses cyber bullying.
    • Encourage your child to tell you if he or she is aware of others who may be the victims of such behavior.
    • Explain that cyber bullying is harmful and unacceptable behavior.  Outline your expectations for responsible online behavior and make it clear that there will be consequences for inappropriate behavior.
  • Although adults must respect the privacy of children and youth, concerns for your child’s safety may sometimes override these privacy concerns.  Tell your child that you may review his or her on-line communications if you think there is reason for concern.
  • Consider installing parental control filtering software and/or tracking programs, but don’t rely solely on these tools.

Tips for dealing with cyber bullying that your child has experienced:

Because cyber bullying can range from rude comments to lies, impersonations, and threats, your responses may depend on the nature and severity of the cyber bullying.  Here are some actions that you may want to take after-the-fact.

  • Strongly encourage your child not to respond to the cyber bullying.
  • Do not erase the messages or pictures. Save these as evidence.
  • Try to identify the individual doing the cyber bullying. Even if the cyberbully is anonymous (e.g., is using a fake name or someone else’s identity) there may be a way to track them through your Internet Service Provider. If the cyber bullying is criminal (or if you suspect that it may be), contact the police and ask them to do the tracking.
  • Sending inappropriate language may violate the “Terms and Conditions” of e-mail services, Internet Service Providers, web sites, and cell phone companies. Consider contacting these providers and filing a complaint.
  • If the cyber bullying is coming through e-mail or a cell phone, it may be possible to block future contact from the cyberbully. Of course, the cyberbully may assume a different identity and continue the bullying.
  • Contact your school. If the cyber bullying is occurring through your school district’s Internet system, school administrators have an obligation to intervene. Even if the cyber bullying is occurring off campus, make your school administrators aware of the problem. They may be able to help you resolve the cyber bullying or be watchful for face-to-face bullying.
  • Consider contacting the cyberbully’s parents. These parents may be very concerned to learn that their child has been cyber bullying others, and they may effectively put a stop to the bullying.  On the other hand, these parents may react very badly to your contacting them. So, proceed cautiously. If you decide to contact a cyberbully’s parents, communicate with them in writing — not face-to-face. Present proof of the cyber bullying (e.g., copies of an e-mail message) and ask them to make sure the cyber bullying stops.
  • Consider contacting an attorney in cases of serious cyber bullying. In some circumstances, civil law permits victims to sue a bully or his or her parents in order to recover damages.
  • Contact the police if cyber bullying involves acts such as:
    • Threats of violence
    • Extortion
    • Obscene or harassing phone calls or text messages
    • Harassment, stalking, or hate crimes
    • Child pornography

If you are uncertain if cyber bullying violates your jurisdiction’s criminal laws, contact your local police, who will advise you.

Suggestions for educators

  • Educate your students, teachers, and other staff members about cyber bullying, its dangers, and what to do if someone is cyberbullied.
  • Be sure that your school’s anti-bullying rules and policies address cyber bullying.
  • Closely monitor students’ use of computers at school.
  • Use filtering and tracking software on all computers, but don’t rely solely on this software to screen out cyber bullying and other problematic on-line behavior.
  • Investigate reports of cyber bullying immediately. If cyber bullying occurs through the school district’s Internet system, you are obligated to take action. If the cyber bullying occurs off-campus, consider what actions you might take to help address the bullying:
    • Notify parents of victims and parents of cyberbullies of known or suspected cyber bullying.
    • Notify the police if the known or suspected cyber bullying involves a threat.
    • Closely monitor the behavior of the affected students at school for possible bullying.
    • Talk with all students about the harms caused by cyber bullying. Remember — cyber bullying that occurs off-campus can travel like wildfire among your students and can affect how they behave and relate to each other at school.
    • Investigate to see if the victim(s) of cyber bullying could use some support from a school counselor or school-based mental health professional.
  • Contact the police immediately if known or suspected cyber bullying involves acts such as:
    • Threats of violence
    • Extortion
    • Obscene or harassing phone calls or text messages
    • Harassment, stalking, or hate crimes
    • Child pornography

Kowalski, R. et al (August, 2005). Electronic Bullying Among School-Aged Children and Youth. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC.

Opinion Research Corporation (2006). Cyber bully pre-teen. Available at: www.fightcrime.org/cyberbullying/cyberbullyingpreteen.pdf.

Opinion Research Corporation (2006). Cyber bully teen. Available at: www.fightcrime.org/cyberbullying/cyberbullyingteen.pdf.

Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2006). Online victimization of youth: Five years later. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2004). Youth engaging in online harassment: Associations with caregiver-child relationships, Internet use, and personal characteristics. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 319-336.

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