Parents are increasingly asking about the “new world” of Cyberbullying. The stereotypic bullying (physical attacks, threats, name calling, rumor spreading, exclusion) can be devastating enough. But, with the advent and increasing use among children and teens of cell phones and social media, such as Facebook, bullying has reached new heights (or new lows).
Nearly 1 in 5 students between the ages of 11 and 18 report that they have been victims of cyberbullying. In most of these cases, the psychological effects on these children can be substantial, including feelings of depression, and in some widely publicized cases, suicide. Is cyberbullying a big problem? Unequivocally, YES.
Cyberbullying is defined as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices. Examples are “anonymous” texts or web posts saying things like: “I hate you. Everyone hates you. You should die.” Or, “I’m gonna get you. I know where you live. I’ll kill you and your family.” Websites can be set up for students who can vote on “the top 10 ugliest (or fattest) kids in the school.”
Personal information can be circulated through anonymous web posts, on sensitive subjects, and a student can go to school one day only to find that seemingly every student in the school knows that s/he was just in a behavioral hospital, or untruths about sexual behavior. And, you can’t “unring a bell.” It is out there. Can you see why this new electronic world, when misused, can be so devastating?
Youth Services of Elk Grove Township has partnered with District 59 to bring bullying prevention programming to Township children. When we talk about cyberbullying, we tell students to save all cyberbullying information, including tracking the source through the internet provider, or cell company, and taking a snapshot of the screen, and so they can take this to the local police. There are legal and practical responses that can ensue. For example, the student (and parents) can lose their internet provider because cyberbullying considered a misuse of their service. We also tell students to inform school officials. In some circumstance, with the right conditions, Illinois law allows school districts to suspend or even expel students for cyberbullying.
When parents ask what they can do if they discover that their child has been cyberbullied, the first thing we do is suggest that they remain calm, and make sure their child feels safe and secure, and loved and supported. Next, we suggest that they explore possible solutions with their child, even taking their child’s input. Parents may need to explain to their child the importance of setting up a meeting with school officials, or the police (if warranted). Parents need to be respectful, sensitive, collaborative, but in charge. Their goal is to have the cyberbullying stop.
We also provide them with websites, such as: Stopcyberbullying.org.
For further information, feel free to call Elk Grove Township Youth Services. 847-981-0373.