writing

The Insidiousness of Online Bullying

cyberbullyIn October 2006, thirteen-year-old Megan Meier hung herself in her bedroom closet after suffering months of cyberbullying. She believed her tormentors’ horrid insults, never thought she could find a way to stop them, and killed herself. She’s not the only one. In fact, according to the anti-bullying website NoBullying.com, 52 percent of young people report being cyberbullied and over half of them don’t report it to their parents.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a great time to think about how you can be part of the solution to this insidious destructive problem.

What is cyberbullying?

The image of bullying is the big kid pushing the little kid on the playground. Today, that taunting and pushing is more likely to happen online than in person:

Cyberbullying is any online post, blog, article, or even a show of support for writing that insults one person (or a group) who thinks/acts differently than what the bully considers ‘good’.

It’s easy to identify. If you read something online that uses insults, opinions, or judgments to demean the person/persons, that considers a person/persons stupid or inferior because s/he/they think this way, and that doesn’t take into account why those other actions/ideas might be valid from the person’s perspective, that is cyberbullying. Screaming at people rather than carrying on civil discourse is bullying, be it online or in person. More examples include mean texts or emails, insulting snapchats, embarrassing photos or videos, rumors posted on social networking sites, unsubstantiated lies presented as truth, and insults to people who believe/think differently.

How serious is it?

The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center estimates that nearly 30 percent of American youth are either a bully or a target of bullying. 7% of high school students commit suicide, some because of cyberbullying:

On October 7, 2003, Ryan Halligan committed suicide by hanging himself [after being cyberbullied by high school classmates]. His body was found later by his older sister. Click for his story.

It gets worse every year as the Internet plays an increasingly dominant part in kids’ lives. Exponentially worse. Because this crime occurs in the vastness of the world wide web, the bully hides behind their handles, buttressing their actions by the acceptance of others. What makes it even harder to identify and less likely to solve is that kid–and adults–often are reluctant to ask for help.

Effects of Cyberbullyingcyberbully

Words matter. Kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to:

  • use alcohol and drugs
  • skip school
  • experience in-person bullying
  • be unwilling to attend school
  • receive poor grades
  • have lower self-esteem
  • have more health problems

What you can do

Too often, people who see cyberbullying follow the SODSDI Principle:

SODSDI — Some Other Dude Should Do It

Meaning, it’s someone else’s responsibility to stop the bullying. Parents think they’re invading their child’s privacy by monitoring social media accounts and teachers think they don’t have enough time.

But really, if not you, who?

Once you accept that you can do something, the first thing you should do is push back against cyberbullying. In my grad school class, I teach specific steps kids and adults can take to combat (cyber)bullying:

  • Be open-minded. No matter how strongly you believe you hold the righteous opinion, someone won’t agree. Respect their right to think differently.
  • Discuss this topic with your child every year, starting as soon as they use multi-player games (often as young as second grade). You think they’re OK because you disabled the online access — think again. These clever digital natives take figuring out how to circumvent your protections as a challenge. Once the emotional damage is done, it’s difficult to undo.
  • Consider sources for your opinions. Are they balanced, neutral sources? Are they gossipy? Did the source present both sides?

Here are some great resources to start or continue your discussions. If you’re going to share them with children, be sure to preview them first. Some are pretty sad:

Bullied to Deathcyberbully

This is a true (video) story of fifteen-year-old Irish-born Phoebe Prince who committed suicide because of cyberbullying. The repercussions led to what might be the biggest bullying case in American history. It’s almost 45 minutes long but never boring.

Calling my Childhood Bully

This is a video published by Riyadh, the victim of high school bullying. He’s now an adult and reaches out to his childhood bully, not in anger but to try to understand. I am amazed by Riyadh’s strength. The video’s only seven minutes long, easily shown to a group. In fact, 4.7 million people (and counting) have watched this video since it was published in September 2015.

Caught in the Middle: A Cyberbullying Tale

This is an educational digital storybook that dives into the dangers of cyberbullying and how friends can step up and stop it. It includes discussion questions at the end of the story and is a great resource for both teachers and parents. The PDF can be viewed on the website or downloaded.

Cyberbully

This is a 90-minute movie put out by ABC Family, now available on YouTube. It’s about a cute, popular girl with everything a girl wants — until she becomes the victim of cyberbullying. It first aired in 2011 and has been viewed by over 11 million people.

Cyberbullying videos from BrainPOP

BrainPop offers two free cyberbully videos, one for youngers and one for olders. As with most BrainPop animations, both teach by exploring the topic through the eyes of a trusted character (in this case, Annie, Tim, and Moby). They’re free; you can even watch if you don’t have a subscription. They include closed caption, transcripts, the ability to print the entire notebook, an easy and hard quiz, a challenge (older only), a make-a-map activity (requires a login), games to support the theme, and activities. 

Cyberbullying

This is a resource site put out by the popular Commonsense Media. You can find age-specific guidelines, videos, and articles that offer advice, resources, and more from parents and experts. You can explore by age-group or pick the most popular resources. It’s geared for fifth grade and up and includes common questions students may ask and their answers.

Cyberbullying—what is it

This site offers guidance on what cyberbullying is and how to stop it. It includes media, images, videos, policies and laws, as well as who to contact if you or a child is being cyberbullied.

Ryan Halligan’s Story

This is the heart-breaking video story of a teenager who takes his own life after being ruthlessly cyberbullied. The video is done as text and images with accompanying music and is just short of four minutes. It will break your heart.

Think Time: How Does Cyberbullying Affect You

About three minutes long, this hard-hitting video highlights all the important points about cyberbullying and what teens should think about before they engage in the anonymous crime.

***

On a personal note: I am bullied, often, mostly for my beliefs but sometimes for more than that. Usually, it’s from the safety of an online ecosystem but occasionally, it’s in person, by people I trust, never expected to see this from. As a result, I found this article wrenching to write. The crime is so ugly, destructive, and in the case of kids, affects our most innocent. But it must be addressed. These resources are a starting point. Don’t wait to get involved until it’s too late.

@PACER_NBPC  @stopbullyinggov

–published first on TeachHUB


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today and TeachHUBmonthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. Look for her upcoming trilogy, Crossroads, eta Spring 2019.

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72 thoughts on “The Insidiousness of Online Bullying

  1. In my opinion, bullies are cowards, they always surround themselves with followers who are too scared to say no. Unfortunately, with technology they can now hide behind their devices. It is time we all say enough! And its not just in the schools, workplaces are just as bad.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Dolly Everett was a young girl in Australia who killed herself in Jan this year because of online bullying. It led to a cybersafety campaign. We monitor the Barbarians, but we don’t let them have phones yet. It means they don’t do social media and we haven’t had any problems with cyber bullying (etc). We’re especially careful because one of the Barbarians was bullied for nearly 5 years and it was bad enough face-to-face without adding the cyber world to it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Parental involvement is critical to solving this–doing what you’re doing. Even the bulliers would step back if their parents got involved.

      I’m so sorry to hear about Dolly. We can’t afford to lose our youth, especially over something like bullying. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Why Fear of Rejection Makes Authenticity so Elusive ~ Heather Erickson

  4. Last year, a local thirteen-year-old boy committed suicide because of bullying. His family had no clue what he was going through, and it’s so heartbreaking. This is a clear example of families being too busy. We have to take the time to check in with our kids.

    Just the other night, my son (13 y.o) had a terrible day at school and he acted out during a soccer game. I saw that it was out of character for him, and while some people assumed it was because they were losing the game, I knew better. Because I know his triggers.

    Sure enough, when I talked to him later that night, turned out something had happened at school–and he couldn’t shake it in time to play a soccer game with a clear head. I spent over an hour talking to him and giving him options and going over resources, reminding him that he is LOVED. I had dishes in the sink, a deadline to meet, a client call to return, I was beyond tired at the end of a long day–but nothing should stand in our way of connecting DAILY with our kids. They are far too precious to leave hanging, even for a day.

    Wonderful post, Jacqui.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Kate, I am so sad for that 13-yo in your neighborhood. It is difficult to notice, that cyberbullying, but I think like you did–if parents check in daily, pause to notice, they see those changes that signal something’s wrong. The second piece I think is often forgotten is to empower kids to fight back–whatever that might mean, however small that is. They aren’t powerless or victims.

      I lost a lot of jobs raising my kids and I don’t regret a single time I put them ahead of work. It’s just what had to be done.

      I hope your son is getting through his difficulty.

      Like

  5. Heartbreaking and important post, Jacqui. I’ve been bullied throughout school, it luckily stopped when I went to university but the scars on my soul will never go away. I actually still dream of being bullied sometimes, they’re always nightmares. But I count myself lucky that back then there was no cyberbullying, this is especially cruel as the cowards behind it hide themselves in anonymity. I at least knew my tormentors. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh, so right you are. I have a difficult time with bullying co-workers. They even sit there and text each other, instead of traditional gossip. These people should be removed from the workplace. I have worked there for 25 years, and some of these young people are trying to push me out of my job. The other day somebody came to me and told me that one of the perps was a girl who had a difficult childhood. I was so mad. I did too, but I never took it out on anybody.

    It’s likely that I have to quit my job to avoid the emotional damage that has gradually occurred. I spoke to a union person and voiced that these people start in grade school and then the trend continues into the workplace. People managing are not always trained to deal with these issues.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am so sad for what you’re going through. I debated talking about how young bullies grow into adult bullies but decided I’d leave that topic for later. But, you are living exactly what happens when we don’t address bullies in grade school (or school). they think it’s OK. They think numbers make them right and anything goes. I’ve seen too much of it on TV, in the news, on the internet. It makes me glad I work at home.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I was bullied at school in my teens back when there was no internet so I can see how cyber-bullying has proliferated, not least as the bullies can hide their identities. I have to admit that I have done little to help beyond standing up when I can and speaking out. I have just written a short fiction story with bullying at its core – it’s part of my detective’s backstory. In fact, it is the second short that touches on the issue. Is that only helping me?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Roland. It used to be considered a right of passage in school but now we understand how destructive it is. I think, as far as doing what you can now to help others, really, you do what you can, nothing else. Writing about it is powerful and as a tangential piece can be even more effective than the central plot. If your character was bullied and came out of it as a detective, that says a lot.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. This is so upsetting, Jacqui. It’s amazing how brutal people can be. I ignore it, but I’m 60 years old. As a kid or teenager, it would have been devastating. I hope that parents, teachers, teenagers, and kids will stand up to cyber-bullies. Thanks for the informative post and links.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Such an important post Jacqui. It can become hard to dodge cyber bullying because so many live on the computer and as in real life there always seems to be a bully somewhere. It’s so much easier to hide on the internet. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

      • I too, an working at home, but only part-time. I am a brand new Copywriter. I am trying to make enough money so that can quit and focus on my writing. It’s only because I am not quite there yet. I am giving them my notice, and I am going to request an exit hearing to let them know why I am leaving early. Many of the problem people have addictions and mental illnesses. That’s fine, but health care is not the place for addicts when their behaviour is out of control.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Jacqui – such a difficult subject … but so invasive of personal life … and so unnecessary. I can imaging people bullying – I’ve tried to avoid attracting that sort of attention – hence why I’m not on social media very much. However it happens in real life too … people are incredibly ruthless and selfish, let alone cruel. Parents, elders we need to set examples for ourselves as well as all whom we encounter … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is an excellent post, Jacqui, and it’s obvious you did a lot of research before writing it. Bullying is an ancient activity, (I was bullied often because I was such an easy target) but the Internet makes it more pernicious and difficult to confront. I’m going to send this to my sons so they can be more vigilant for the sake of their own children. Thank you – one of the best public service articles available.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Again thanks – I realize it can’t be easy to write about. I’ve rarely experienced this as I don’t put myself out there too far on the internet, but there is something about how the internet and people work that seems to generate this kind bullying.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Bullies who fear facing others hide behind screens to bully. This needs to be addressed by teachers and parents by warning the kids before they come across bullies. I have seen it starts early and is often brushed aside as aggressive behavior and kids are expected to fight their own battles till they stop discussing.
    Thank you for highlighting this issue Jacqui. Well written!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is an excellent post, Jacqui. And so important. Thank you for bringing attention to this. I’m going to check out some of these videos. This subject brought to mind the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We have to start by teaching kids cyberbullying is wrong. Sometimes, they don’t even realize what they’re doing hurts others. They think they’re anonymous so safe. John Wooden (famous football coach) says, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” We need to help kids to believe that.

      And then, we have to work on the bullying adults. Yikes!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is. It isn’t taught much in school (though they do address bullying and cyberbullying as often a unit–not iterative teaching). Adults become the model and that often doesn’t work well.

      Like

  14. Such a sad but very important post, Jacqui. Cyberbullying is dreadful with terrible effects. Teenage suicide as a result of it is heartbreaking. We have had some very sad cases over here too. Once one could only be bullied by others close by. Now it can occur from anywhere in the world. That you are bullied is sad too. Stay strong. You are not what they say you are.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a wonderful post, because it raises awareness and reminds us of the affects bullying can have. The resources are wonderful, and I hope lots of readers use them. I’m going to show my girls. They are older now and my youngest suffered cyber-bullying. I’m lucky that she discussed this with me and I was able to support her through it. I was bullied at school. There were days I wanted to hide under my covers and never leave my bed. It was before easy access to the internet, so I’m thankful that those girls couldn’t ‘follow’ me home and continue their campaign through a computer screen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so sad to hear about your daughter. I do believe that by bringing it to you early, it (hopefully) lessened the impact. And you! I suppose that was before schools took a harder stance on bullying. I’m so glad you came through it with the great talents and positive attitude that I see all the time in your posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. heartbreaking … parents have a huge role to play in prevention of this by starting with their own children, teaching them not to be a bully of any kind – and speaking out whenever it occurs. Educators too – Thanks Jacqui …

    Liked by 2 people

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