There was a time, not long ago, when a parent’s concern about bullying was centered mostly on the schoolyard, playground or neighborhood.
Today, communication technology presents a new and seemingly limitless portal through which bullies can act out.
Where a child’s home once was a safe haven against hateful and harmful attacks, smartphones, tablets and computers deliver harassing and threatening messages across the threshold and into the child’s bedroom. Worse, for the young person who carries these devices throughout the day, these threats can be continuous and constantly present.
This virtual badgering known as cyberbullying is defined as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cellphones and other electronic devices.
A 2014 Cyberbullying Research Center study found 25 percent of more than 10,000 randomly selected 11- to 18-year-olds surveyed during a seven-year study reported they had been subjected to cyberbullying. About 17 percent of the study group admitted to cyberbullying someone else at some point in the past.
In a separate study among middle schoolers, 12 percent said they had been subjected to cyberbullying and 4 percent admitted to being the virtual bully within the previous 30 days.
Given that it is the rare youth who does not have a personal cellphone or unfettered access to the internet through a computer, it is a safe bet these statistics have increased considerably during the past few years.
For too many youth today, personal identity and self-worth can be wrapped up in their social media profiles and virtual activity. A degrading message anonymously posted on the child’s social media page or a group text sent by a fictitious individual, can take a measurable toll on the recipient’s emotions, especially when viewed by their circle of friends.
When repeated over and over through post, texts and tweets, a child’s psychological and emotional health can be damaged.
Tragically, we’ve all read the heartbreaking stories of adolescent suicide chosen as the apparent route of escape.
Keeping kids safe online is a daunting task for even the most technologically savvy parent. It’s a challenge, if not altogether impossible, to keep up with the growing and ever-changing apps, social media outlets and chat rooms that are frequented by today’s youth.
For parents who try to keep up with what their kids used to stay connected to their peers, once they have learned where to go and how to use one digital side or application, their kids have migrated to another.
But parents must work to gain this knowledge and be diligent about staying in tune with what their children are doing online and how and with whom they’re using the technology available to them. If cyberbullying problems are found, careful conversation and observation about how the bullying is affecting the child must occur. Steps must be discussed on how and with whom to address the problem, including the offenders’ parents or guardian, school officials and even law enforcement if need be.
Most importantly, the child must know the parent cares about their well being and is not indifferent to the virtual harassment taking place.
Bullying is an age-old problem. Cyberbullying is its newest and more dangerous incarnation.
Knowledge, communication and diligence will strengthen the allimportant parent-protector role.
For information and useful resources for parents, youth and educators, go to the Cyberbullying Research Center at www.cyberbullying.us.
— The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown