Children and teens, who are just learning to navigate social relationships, often find themselves in social situations that are fraught with awkward exchanges. When the line between normal, even acceptable, playful teasing crosses into bullying, problems arise. It’s often difficult for them, and even adults, to discern when teasing becomes bullying, and when a laughing together becomes laughing at someone else’s expense.
Simply put, bullying can be boiled down to unwanted social attention. While it can be subtle or blatant; take place online, or in public; be physical or aggressive; there are a few characteristics that can help define bullying.
What Defines Bullying?
RIP is a good mnemonic to help remember the key elements of defining bullying behavior:
Bullying is repetitive, especially after the bullied person has asked for it to stop; thus, the bully is aware that s/he is causing the bullied person(s) physical/emotional discomfort, and furthering the power dynamic. Additionally, bullying is often focused, repeatedly, on the same person, or groups of people.
Bullying is done with the intent of hurting others. This can be physically, or emotionally. A bully is fully aware that they are hurting their targets, and do it anyway.
In general, a bully (or group of bullies) is in a position of social, or physical, power over the person(s) s/he is bullying. The misconception about bullying is that it’s done only by (a) physically strong person(s), or a popular person(s).
What are Typical Behaviors of Bullies?
Bullying behaviors can range from anything to excluding others from social groups, to physical aggression. It is a wide range that includes verbal, social and physical behaviors. For example, verbal, physical and social behaviors are all included in the definition of bullying.
Physical Bullying can range from intimidation, threats, and assault. Bullies can resort to any form of violence, such as pushing, kicking, punching or other such examples.
Verbal/Social Bullying/Relational Bullying
Verbal bullying includes harassment in the form of teasing and taunting, such as name calling, manipulation, and spreading false rumors. According to StopBullying.gov, this is meant to destroy the victim’s reputation. Perhaps, most painful, relational and social bullying is also about socially isolating a victim, and making him/her feel like they don’t belong to their peer group.
Online bullying consists of harassing a victim through social media, text message, email and other messaging systems. It also includes using a school’s online resources, or false online accounts to destroy a person’s online reputation. Sometimes, online bullying may have a sexual component, such as blackmail, as the bully may have access to compromising information or explicit content. The misconception is that the teen always sends the compromising material to the bully themselves. This isn’t always the case; and even if it were, it doesn’t, or shouldn’t matter.
Who are Most Targeted for Bullying
Bullying can seem random, sometimes; but current research shows that nearly a quarter of students report being bullied. There is some data to suggest that certain types of students are at more risk for bullies than others, and certain personalities are more at risk for being bullies than others.
Students who are more likely to be bullied are generally perceived as “different” than their peers. LGBT youth, and those with disabilities, are especially at risk. However, these, and others, are protected under the law, from such provocation. For example, race, religion ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation and disability are all protected classes, under national law. Schools should all be versed on law, and have policies in place to protect these students, should conflicts arise.
Aside from the general idea of those who are less popular than the “in crowd,” students who simply don’t get along well with others, appear anxious, or are unable to defend themselves against provocation are easy targets for bullies. Of course, those who look different than others are always targets for bullies as well; this means that those who are overweight, or who dress differently, or wear their hair in a different fashion. None of the above list will necessarily guarantee that someone will be harassed, but it will certainly not help, if a bully is out to get them.
Often, educators focus on the victims of bullying, and fail to identify the types of students who can become bullies, and therefore don’t intervene before there’s a potential problem. But, it’s equally important to help the bully; according to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Group, 60% of boys who were bullies in middle school had a criminal conviction by 24. Shockingly, 40% had three or more convictions.
Bullies are born from students who are not only overly-concerned with social status, but also with dominance over their weaker peers to bolster, or mask, their own self-esteem issues. Bullies that turn to physical aggression, not surprisingly, often have issues with violent behavior, and with following rules and standards, and often “hang” with the wrong crowd. Perhaps most importantly, according to a University of Washington and Indiana University Study, administrators may be able to spot them early and intervene, by noting that bullies are far more likely to come from troubled and violent homes.
Definition of Cyberbullying:
The same qualities of repeated, intentional, and social/psychological power plays are involved with cyberbullying. The only difference is that the bullying takes place via electronic mediums such as cell phones, computers or other electronic devices. Cyberbullying can be threatening text messages, e-mails; or, it can even be rumors or information posted on public, social media sites or message boards. It can take place exclusively online; or, bullies can combine cyberbullying with traditional bullying.
It’s easy to confuse cyberbullying with cyberstalking, especially because we often hear these words used interchangeably, sometimes. It’s especially easy to become confused because cyberbullying has an element of stalking to it: the relentless messaging, the social media pages, and the ability to track the victim, online.
However, cyberstalking is a bit different. Cyberstalking is a repetitive, malicious vendetta often with no legitimate purpose, ironically against a very personal target, carried out with premeditation and obsessive zeal. Cyberstalkers disregard all warnings to stop their illegal activity, and reasonable reasons to stop (like that they are causing distress to another human being).
How is Cyberbullying Different?
Cyberbullying is, in many ways, different than “typical” bullying. Cyberbullying is primarily psychological, as it’s perpetrated through social manipulation and intimidation via messaging and interference with one’s social status through message boards and groups. The primary, and most important, difference between cyberbullying, and traditional bullying, is that it can, and often does, occur 24-hours a day. Cyberbullying takes the “repetition part of bullying to the extreme.
Victims have no respite, or safe place, from their bullies. If they are being bullied on their cell phones, their message beep can go off, even in the safety of their bedroom, even when they are asleep. If they are gaming, involved in a safe community of peer players, it can quickly be infiltrated by bullies who attack them with brutal messages.
Another major difference with cyberbullying is that the “power” may not be the same typical social or physical imbalance that a typical bully has over their victim. Instead, a cyberbully may have access to virtual information, such as an “incriminating,” message, e-mail, or photograph that the victim doesn’t want anyone else to see. This is still an imbalance of power, but not in the traditional sense. It changes the power dynamic, and makes power somewhat of a grey area in the bully/victim relationship, as the bully may have access to this information because they were formerly close, or even intimate, with their victim.
Cyberbullying and Sex
Worst of all, much of cyber bullying, especially among older students, is sometimes sexually motivated, or sexually graphic. Even if untrue, cyber bullying can spread false rumors, ruining reputations through social groups.
However, not all victims of cyberbullying find online contact distressing. In fact, according to a survey, 38% of students weren’t bothered by being harassed online. It was only when online harassment crossed into offline harassment as well, did they feel upset by e-bullying.
Identifying cyberbullying starts by realizing that you need to look for both victims and bullies. Unlike traditional bullying, victims and bullies share some similar behaviors, such as hiding their phone screens from teachers, quickly minimizing computer browser windows from adults, or refuses to discuss their online activity with adults (or others). However, victims and bullies do behave differently in other ways.
- Seems to have multiple accounts, or access to others’ accounts
- Uses electronic devices at all hours of the day, especially (and including) at night
- Expresses inappropriate anger at limits on electronic device usage
Identifying Cyberbully Victim
- Generalized increase in anxiety, depression or frustration
- Increased anger, frustration or depression after using electronic media
- Refusal to talk with parents or teachers about online activities
- Stops using electronic devices
- Withdrawal from social, or even home, activity
If You See Something, Say Something
There’s no room for bystanders in bullying. With over 80% of teens using a cell phone, it’s difficult to catch; but, that’s why it’s important for adults to be engaged in the lives of young people and adolescents. Ask questions. Be involved. Notice when things are different. Quite simply: pay attention. And remember, bystanders are victims too. Bystanders report symptoms of anxiety, guilt and shame associated with incidents of bullying.
How to Help in a Cyber Bullying Situation
There’s a relatively simple list of items/ideas that can help in any cyberbullying situation:
Be a friend to youth. Or, encourage your children to have an adult friend. It’s okay if your children feel more comfortable confiding in a coach, or teacher; just make sure they feel comfortable confiding in someone.
Talk it Out
Mediation can sometimes help resolve a bullying situation, if it’s a misunderstanding that has blown out of proportion. Attempt a talk-it-out situation carefully, if you engage a trained counselor as a mediator and you are confident that violence won’t escalate.
Make sure you visit websites that your children frequent, with them, and learn the ins and outs of the pages. Get to know their online “friends,” and be aware of their online activity. Know when things change.
Teach Them Appropriate Responses
It’s never a good idea to add fuel to a fire; so, teach your children not to respond to cyberbullies. Don’t give them any information, respond to any messages, or let them know that they are bothering you. In many ways, this is not much different than traditional bullying; as emotional as it may seem, leaving it alone, may be the best answer.
Despite the grey areas of the laws, cyberbullying and cyberstalking are against the law. While there is some potential shame and fear associated with cyberbullying, especially if it’s related to sexual activity, or rule-breaking such as underage drinking or drug use, it’s vital that kids and teens are instructed to never delete any harassing messages.
All online services, such as Facebook, or even Craigslist, have reporting services to report unauthorized, or inappropriate usage, and cyberbullying. Without screenshots and evidence, it’s almost impossible to enforce their policies, however. Utilize their reporting services, and provide them with the evidence you’ve saved to quickly put an end to “small” incidents of cyberbullying.
Utilize Law Enforcement
Most schools have resource officers; engage them, and make sure they are aware of incidents of cyberbullying among the students in their purview. More importantly, make sure that they are aware of the laws that govern cyberbullying in their state, and how to enforce them. Resource officers are specially trained to deal with students and adolescents; sometimes, simply allowing the resource officer to intervene is enough to scare the cyberbully into stopping, rather than engaging criminal charges. However, if activity continues, or if harassment is especially malicious, engage the entire team and report activity to the local and state authorities.
Knock-it-Off Policy and No-Contact
If the bullying is especially pervasive or violent, and as such is affecting the learning environment, it is important to make sure that students are supervised and kept apart as much as possible, both to protect their safety, and to keep other students from being affected. It’s important to make sure that the situation is left to fizzle, rather than ignite. An adult can be provided to walk a student to class, to sit nearby, but not necessarily with the student, in the cafeteria, for example.
Appoint Staff at Every Level
An anti-bullying task manager or team manager should be assigned at the elementary through high school level to work with faculty, administrators, counselors and staff to be kept abreast of all new information in the field, and to have “boots on the ground,” as it were, with the students. Engage a staff member who cares about bullying, stopping it, and about student mental health.
Recognize Limits of “Zero-Tolerance” Programs
Zero-tolerance sounds good on paper, and it sounds good to parents; but, for kids it can sound scary and it can make them afraid to report bullying for fear of reprisal, perhaps even fearing that they may be disciplined themselves, as part of the bullying scenario. Zero tolerance policies have their merits, but it’s important to recognize their limits when dealing with complex bullying scenarios, adolescents and teens.
Parents are a valuable resource. In many cases, they will be the ones who will be able to tell you if the student’s eating, sleeping, or behavior habits have drastically changed, which will help sound the alarm to a more serious situation. Additionally, parents are a great resource to help reinforce school policy; as administrators, you want them on your team, so listen to their needs and be conscious of them. Their primary concern, and yours, is stopping their child’s hurt.
Engage the Community
Community leaders, especially city and county leaders such as mayors and city council members have taken strong roles in speaking out against anti-bullying. Take the time to engage them in speaking at your school, or in writing letters to your students. Engage your local sports teams, or other civic leaders to form a culture of anti-bullying at your school.
The best way to prevent bullying, of any kind, is to create an environment where bullying isn’t tolerated or condoned. In an ideal world, this is easy. All students love one another, and everyone gets along. There’s no gossip, everyone’s a star athlete, plays in the school band, and gets straight A’s. But, that’s not how it works. So, Stomp Out Bullying, makes these Top 20 suggestions to stop bullying in your school:
- Don’t laugh
- Don’t encourage the bully
- Stay at a safe distance, and help the target get away
- Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
- Reach out and become a friend to a bullying victim
- Help the victim in any way that you can
- Support the victim in private
- If you notice someone being isolated, invite them to join you
- Include the victim in some of your activities
- Tell an adult if you see bullying, or are being bullied
- Encourage your school to participate in bullying or cyberbullying prevention programs
- Start a peer mentoring program at school
- Raise awareness of bullying and cyberbullying prevention in your community
- Teach friends about being more tolerant of others, even if they are different
- Ask your school to set up a private box where kids who are bullied can report it, anonymously
- Get someone to sponsor a conflict resolution team
- Encourage school administrators to adopt Internet-use policies that address online hate, harassment and pornography
- Create events in your school and community to raise anti-bullying, and bullying prevention awareness.
- Create bullying prevention awareness posters for your school
- Stand up and do something when you hear someone making jokes or comments about: someone’s sexual identity, family member(s), weight, clothing, skin color, accent, or disability.
Cyberbullying and the Law
Currently, cyberbullying is covered at the state level. All states have laws covering cyberbullying, but there is a wide range of what is allowable, for prosecution, or what is considered legal, or protected, under the letter of the law. The Cyberbullying Research Center keeps an updated, interactive map of what states have what laws, including those proposed.
Education and information is part of the answer to stopping cyberbullying. Teaching our kids how to respond to harassment properly, and teaching our kids how not to bully, is a big part of the solution. It is never too soon to teach kids about cyberbullying. People overlook early childhood years in bullying prevention, because they underestimate both children’s intelligence, and their emotional maturity. Cyberbullying education is recommended for all students, from as early Pre-K.
Cyberbullying on Social Media and Popular Websites
New social media sites pop up seemingly every day. And, just as quickly fade away. Keeping up with what your tweens and teens are doing online, and who they are doing it with, is important to helping them avoid both their being cyberbullied, or becoming one. Privacy and user settings, and parental oversight can go a long way in preventing many dangerous, and harassment situations.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Cyber bullying is part of a complex puzzle that, if reduced, improves student performance and success. But, we cannot forget things like the value of parental involvement, drug and alcohol education, other education on other teen behaviors that can affect student life.
This information provided in this article is from Cyber Bullying: The Complete Resource Guide. For the complete article, further information, counseling and resources, please visit the website by clicking here.