While traditional/physical bullying ends when a child enters the safe harbor of home, cyberbullying has no such geographical limits.
It can — and does — occur 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
And occur it does. How frequently? Research on cyberbullying is imperfect, because it is most certainly underreported. But the latest estimates say that 7 percent of students in grades six to 12 and 15 percent of students in grades nine to 12 have experienced cyberbullying.
The nature of social media and the connectedness a young person has to his or her devices provides the access a cyberbully needs. As a parent, ask yourself: How often and when does your child check his phone? Every time that happens, a cyberbully could threaten, shame or ridicule your child.
That’s distressing, but there’s something you can do. As parents and Scout leaders, your responsibilities include:
- Understanding cyberbullying
- Preventing cyberbullying (and educating young people about prevention)
- Reporting cyberbullying (and educating young people about reporting)
What the BSA is doing
Scouting magazine has done its part, as well. Our November-December 2016 issue features a story on social-media safety that every parent should read.
In an effort to ensure it has the latest information on bullying prevention, the BSA has been longtime partners with StopBullying.gov, a resource from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. StopBullying.gov has an entire section devoted to cyberbullying, and that’s from where I gathered the information below.
StopBullying.gov defines cyberbullying as “bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cellphones, computers and tablets, as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat and websites.”
- It can happen anywhere: Cyberbullying can reach a kid even when he or she is alone. It can happen any time of the day or night. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, Instagram, Yik Yak and dozens of other sites are rife with harmful messages.
- It’s often anonymous: Hurtful messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
- It’s often permanent: They say nothing ever truly disappears from the internet. Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.
- It’s truly harmful: Cyberbullying isn’t some temporary annoyance. Young people who are cyberbullied are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, skip school, be bullied in person, get lower grades, have lower self-esteem, and have more health problems.
Now that I’ve laid out the terrifying facts, here’s what can be done.
- Be aware of what your children are doing online: Know the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they’re going, what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. This may include obtaining passwords or monitoring their online behavior, but StopBullying.gov recommends telling them you’ll only use these passwords in case of emergency.
- Establish rules about technology use: Be clear about what sites they can visit and what they are permitted to do when they’re online. Show them how to be safe online. Remind them about internet privacy and that nothing is truly private once it’s posted online.
- Understand school and Scouting rules: Odds are your child’s school has policies about appropriate technology use. Scouting has them too. Familiarize yourself with both.
These are the steps to take immediately:
- Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages.
- Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and cellphone service providers.
- Block the person who is cyberbullying.
Next, report the offending account. For example, you can report a harassing Twitter user by tapping the “gear” icon on the person’s account and tapping “Report.” Other social media sites have similarly simple steps.
If the cyberbullying includes threats of violence, child pornography, a photo or video of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy, or stalking and hate crimes, it must be reported to law enforcement.