It’s October, and that means National Bullying Prevention Month is kicking into gear again. However, even as we ramp up our efforts to confront this problem, it’s important to take a moment and see not just where we’re at, but where bullying is at.
The New Face of Bullying
In the last few years, cyberbullying – a variant of bullying that takes place mostly or entirely online, usually through social media or text messages – has become one of the most popular forms of bullying. After all, almost all teens are online, and the digital world means that anyone can become a bully.
Yes, even the smallest, weakest kids in class – revenge bullying is something that some victims are willing to do, and their digital expertise often makes this trivially easy.
In short, bullying is no longer something that only happens on the playground – and if we’re going to successfully prevent it, we need to understand the strategies that are most effective at preventing cyberbullying.
The Megan Meier Foundation has compiled together a lot of information on cyberbullying. Here are the highlights:
- More than 60% of high school students have been sent a mean message at least once in their lives
- 8% reported that cyberbullying took place one or more times each week
- 16% reported being contacted by a stranger in a way they weren’t comfortable with
- Cyberbullying is most common among females, non-hispanic whites, and older students. However, all groups experience it.
There is no practical way of preventing teens from gossiping about others behind their back – but cyberbullying, by its very nature, almost requires the victim to be aware of it. This is good – unlike traditional bullying, where weaker children find it hard to oppose stronger ones, everyone is on an equal footing in the digital world and can learn the techniques needed to stop cyberbullying.
The first step in preventing cyberbullying is controlling who can access a profile. If a given account on social media is blocked from public view, then bullies have little or no ability to send hurtful posts to them. Furthermore, teens should understand the other privacy settings on their accounts – and in general, those settings should be as strict as possible until they’re out of high school.
Teens should also have ways of building up their self-confidence – if they’re wrapped up in the digital world after school every day, they’re not having experiences that can raise their confidence and make them believe they’re successful. Having self-confidence is the most important part of overcoming bullying, because teens who know they’re winners aren’t going to be hurt by attempts to claim otherwise.
Sadly, most teens aren’t willing to talk about cyberbullying, often because they fear being seen as a failure. Bullying, after all, is what happens to weak children – or so they think – so you may need to monitor their internet and smartphone use to see whether or not cyberbullying is happening. If you decide to go this route, be sure the system you use has all of the important features – half-measures aren’t enough when monitoring.
Bullying is not a problem that will go away if we ignore it – as parents, we must actively oppose it and make sure our children are ready to handle it when we can no longer protect them. National Bullying Prevention Month is our yearly reminder of what this means, and getting involved is the first step to eradicating bullying from your child’s life.