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Gwynn Cassidy

Former Executive director at The Global SHE Initiative

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Cyberbullying Explained: What Every Parent Needs To Know Now

Family & Caregiving

As parents, we have a lot to worry about. Are our kids eating right? Are they getting enough sleep? Are they happy? Healthy? Questions like these can keep any parent up at night but now there is another important question we must be asking ourselves: Are they being cyberbullied? The first step to keeping your kids safe in the digital era is to educate yourself.

Read on to find out what cyberbullying is, how common it is and who the cyberbullies are (prepare to be surprised and frightened by what you're about to read).

What Is Cyberbullying?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Usually, it is repeated over time. Traditionally, bullying has involved actions such as: hitting or punching (physical bullying), teasing or name-calling (verbal bullying), or intimidation through gestures or social exclusion. In recent years, technology has given children and youth a new means of bullying each other.

Cyberbullying, which is sometimes referred to as online social cruelty or electronic bullying, has been defined as "an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself."

Cyberbullying can involve:

  • Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images
  • Posting sensitive, private information and/or lies about another person
  • Pretending to be someone else in order to make that person look bad
  • Intentionally excluding someone from an online group

Children and youth can cyberbully each other through:

  • Emails
  • Instant messaging
  • Text or digital imaging messages sent on cell phones
  • Social networking sites
  • Web pages
  • Blogs
  • Chat rooms or discussion groups
  • Other cyber technologies

Bullying via instant messaging appears to be particularly prevalent.

How Common Is Cyberbullying?
Research studies have produced different answers to this question. Rates of cyberbullying vary depending on the definition of cyberbullying that is used, the ages and characteristics of children surveyed, and the time frame involved.

  • In a survey 13-18 year-olds were asked how often they had ever been involved in cyberbullying.
    • 15% said they had been cyberbullied online
    • 10% had been cyberbullied by cell phone
    • 7% said they had cyberbullied another person online
    • 5% had cyberbullied another person by cell phone
  • A study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids investigated how often children (6-11 year-olds) and teens (12-17-year-olds) had been cyberbullied during the previous year. One-third of teens and one-sixth of the children reported that someone said threatening or embarrassing things about them online.
  • In a survey of middle school students, researchers found that 9% had been cyberbullied in the last 30 days, and 17% had been cyberbullied during their lifetime; 8% had cyberbullied others in the last 30 days and 18% had done so during their lifetime.
  • In a study with students in grades 6-8, 18% said they had been cyberbullied at least once in the last couple of months and 6% said it had happened two or more times; 11% had cyberbullied others at least once in the last couple of months, and 2% said they had done it two or more times.

Who Is Cyberbullying Our Children?
Although some studies have found that girls are more involved in cyberbullying than boys, others have found similar rates among boys and girls.

When middle school students were asked about the identity of the person who cyberbullied them:

  • 52% identified another student at school
  • 36% said they had been cyberbullied by a friend
  • 13% had been cyberbullied by a sister or brother
  • 48% did not know who had cyberbullied them

Children and youth who are involved in cyberbullying are also quite likely to be involved in "traditional" forms of bullying. In a study of middle school students, 61% of cyber "victims" also reported being victims of "traditional" bullying; 55% of cyber "bullies" also said they had bullied others in "traditional ways." Cyber "bully/victims" (who cyberbully others and also are cyberbullied) were heavily involved in "traditional" forms of bullying—64% had been bullied and 66% had bullied others.

For more information on bullying and cyberbullying, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Stop Bullying Campaign website.

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