In 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
–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 Time, first 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 TeachHUB, monthly 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.