Cyber Bullying and Harassment
Unfortunately, bullying is no longer limited to the bus or the school hallway -- it has found its way to the Internet. Bullies now use technology, instead of fists and mouths, to intimidate and harass.
In the past year, there have been several high-profile cyber bullying cases in the news. Parents need to discuss this growing issue with their children.
Educate Yourself about Cyber Bullying
What is cyber bullying? Threats or other offensive behavior sent online to a victim or sent or posted online about the victim for others to see are cyber bullying. Cyber bullying can range from embarrassing or cruel rumors to threats, harassment, negative comments, digital photos, or stalking through emails, Web pages, text, and IM (instant messaging). While any age group is vulnerable, teenagers and young adults are common victims, and cyber bullying is a growing problem in schools.
Why has cyber bullying become such a problem? The Internet is fairly anonymous, which is appealing to bullies because their intimidation is difficult to trace. Unfortunately, the Internet and email can spread it more quickly, too. Information or pictures posted online or forwarded in mass emails can reach a larger audience faster than more traditional methods, causing more damage to the victims.
Protecting Your Children from Cyber Bullying
- Limit where your children post personal information. Be careful who can access contact information or details about your children’s interests, habits or employment to reduce their exposure to bullies that they do not know. This may limit their risk of becoming a victim and may make it easier to identify the bully if they are victimized.
- Avoid escalating the situation. Responding with hostility is likely to provoke a bully. Depending on the circumstances, consider ignoring the issue. Often, bullies thrive on the reaction of their victims. If you or your child receive unwanted email messages, consider changing your email address. The problem may stop. If you continue to get messages at the new account, you may have a strong case for legal action.
- Document cyber bullying. Keep a record of any online activity (emails, Web pages, instant messages, etc.), including relevant dates and times. Keep both an electronic version and a printed copy.
- Report cyber bullying to the appropriate authorities. If you or your child are being harassed or threatened, report the activity to the local authorities. Your local police department or FBI branch are good starting points. There is a distinction between free speech and punishable offenses. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors can help sort out legal implications. It may also be appropriate to report it to school officials who may have separate policies for dealing with activity that involves students.