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Understanding Cyberbullying

Understanding Cyberbullying

By Dr. Kenneth Shore

QUESTION: What do the following incidents have in common?

  • A fifth-grade girl sends rude e-mails to peers without identifying herself.
  • Middle-school students cast votes on the Internet for the biggest “geek” in school.
  • An eighth-grade boy takes a picture on his cell phone of a classmate getting undressed and uploads it to a web site for viewing by other students.
  • A tenth-grade boy deceives a girl into disclosing sensitive information about herself while talking online and then texts that information to others. ANSWER: They are all examples of cyberbullying. And they have all actually happened in our nation’s schools.

Cyberbullying is a new and growing form of bullying that has emerged with the advent of new technologies. It involves sending offensive, humiliating or threatening messages or images through the computer or by cell phone. While it happens most often with middle- and high-school students, elementary-school students have also participated in this high-tech form of bullying as well as been its victims.

Cyberbullying may take various forms, ranging from a cruel joke to a vicious threat. And the culprit may be someone the victim knows or a complete stranger. In some cases cyberbullies have been victims of face-to-face bullying and are getting their revenge in an arena where they feel comfortable.

Cyberbullying has increased dramatically in recent years to the extent that it is now a serious concern among parents and school officials. Because of the unique features of the Internet, cyberbullying can be devastating to its victims, perhaps more so than face-to-face bullying. Information about someone can be sent over the computer in a matter of seconds to potentially millions of people with the mere click of a mouse. And once the information is sent, you typically can’t get it back.

In addition, cyberbullying can be done anytime and anywhere and does not require the presence of its victim; it only requires access to a computer or cell phone. Hiding behind a mask of anonymity, cyberbullies can thus invade a victim’s home without ever entering the door. Children who have been victims of cyberbullying describe a feeling of being trapped because they cannot escape the taunts of the bully.

Cyberbullying suffers from the same obstacle to detection as face-to-face bullying: children and teens are often reluctant to report it to an adult. There is a tacit understanding that “what occurs online stays online.” Children may fear that if they report disturbing online incidents to their parents that they will be barred from using the Internet or they may be afraid of retaliation or further ostracism if the cyberbully learns they have told an adult. As a result, parents and teachers are often the last to know about incidents of cyberbullying.

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