When I was growing up, bullying was up close and personal, always face-to-face. For kids, most school bullying happened on the playground. Looking back, I can see that a lot of what we tolerated as “boys being boys,” cliques, and girls shunning other girls was actually bullying, and I was bullied regularly by bigger kids on the playground because of my small size and timid nature. Today’s bullying takes that much further. Through the power of technology, kids can harass and intimidate one another from the privacy of home. Kids of all ages routinely use the Internet and cell phones to bully in vicious ways that I never imagined when I was young. This 21st century cyberbullying is as harmful as traditional bullying.
The definition of cyberbullying is easy to articulate – using electronic media to harass or threaten another. That’s where the simple part ends. The rapid evolution of powerful wireless equipment (small laptops, tablets, smartphones with cameras & Internet access, etc), coupled with the endlessly inventive determination of kids and adults (oh yes, adults are worse than the kids here) to use the technology in innovative new ways, means we are always chasing after the evolving boundaries of this “growth industry”. Was the text message sent from within or outside school? What if I “just” embarrass someone a little? Photos? What if it’s something private the target told me herself and I just re-posted it? When should the police be called? (From “Bullying Epidemic: Not Just Child’s Play” )
Laws against cyberbullying appeared earlier than many laws against face-to-face bullying. Because bullying via computer or cellphone left a documented and retrievable trail, the police were some of the first people talking to our kids about cyberbullying (then it was called harassment or libel).
Cyberbullying can remain hidden to adults until it “suddenly” emerges as a crisis – with threats of suicide, plans for retaliatory school shootings, or pre-arranged plans for an ambush assault on one or more students ( pre-alerted bystanders attend, with cameras, and later post the video online). There have been several high profile cases of suicide and homicide related to cyberbullying as well as permanent physical and emotional damage to the targets.
Cyberbullying targets can be preyed on by an individual or even by a group. Targets are often tormented relentlessly, and the ease and privacy with which information can be shared online and via mobile devices make it easy for bullies to flourish in relative anonymity. With playground bullying, you were safe at home. Now the bullying can continue 24/7, with cyberbullied targets returning to school unsure of who’s a friend and who’s a frenemy.
New cyberbullying laws, intended for increased protection, can have unanticipated consequences. For example, “sexting,” the sending of sexy photographs via text message, is considered distribution of child pornography if the photographs depict a minor, even if the person in the photo sent it. More often than not, these photos are sent by someone who did not have permission to pass them along.
Applying serious laws to these incidents can have heartbreaking consequences for impetuous young adults. An 18 year old texting a picture of his 17 year old girlfriend could end up with a permanent designation as a sex offender – requiring lifelong registration with law enforcement whenever he moves, and permanently closing off many opportunities – college, jobs, apartments. In addition, when kids realize the enormous penalty a peer may suffer for having sexted a photo, they will be less likely to bring the problem to adults, driving the problem even further underground, to emerge later at a more serious stage of the problem. (From “Bullying Epidemic: Not Just Child’s Play” )
Prevention is the only solution here – as it is in every aspect of bullying. Adults (parents & schools) must do a better job coaching kids through the emotional distress of teen relationship breakup without hitting the retaliatory Send button.
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See also: cyber bullying.
Infographic provided by www.nomadcreatives.com