Cyberbullying — the practice of using technology to hurt someone's feelings — is turning computers and cell phones into weapons of personal destruction among America's youth. Imagine being a 13-year-old girl facing classmates after discovering a cell phone picture of her changing for gym class is being circulated among the seventh grade. Or imagine being an 11-year-old boy who is scared to go to school because an unknown bully sent him an instant message saying that he is so fat that he should kill himself. Cases such as these are happening every day, leading kids to be depressed and unable to concentrate.
Worse yet, parents are oblivious to what is happening. Only 15 percent of parents polled by wiredsafety.org even knew what cyberbullying was. And anyone who thinks that their child is not a victim or a bully is probably wrong — 90 percent of middle school students have had their feelings hurt online and 75 percent have admitted to visiting a web site bashing another student.
Unlike traditional schoolyard bullying, where a bully has a name and a face, cyberbullying gets much of its power from anonymity. A cyberbully might design a web site posting cruel remarks and altered photos of a classmate and never tell anyone that he or she was the creator. Cyberbullying also gets its power from the scope of its audience. Within seconds, a cyberbully can send an e-mail to everyone he or she knows inviting them to take part in an online poll of who is the ugliest kid in their class. Victims can be picked on day and night from virtually any location.
The good news is that you can help stop cyberbullying. By making parents and educators aware of what is going on and encouraging them to take quick, strong actions when cyberbullying cases occur, you can help make technology constructive, not destructive, for young people.
Distribute a copy of The Educator's Guide to Cyberbullying to all teachers at your local school.
Recommend the Dealing with Online Bullies lesson plan to local teachers. Encourage them to use videos of cyberbullying cases to stir discussion. Print out copies of the poster Cyberbullying: Don't Be a Victim or a Cyberbully for them to post by computers in their classrooms.
Ask parents in your neighborhood to review Cyberbullying Victim and Offender Warning Signs.
Talk with your children about cyberbullying. Discuss how spreading hurtful comments or pictures can affect another person and how even just visiting a web site that bashes another student gives more power to a bully. Teach your children a rule to remember when using instant messaging, e-mail, or the Internet: If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't say it anywhere else. Consider printing the Internet Use Contract for both you and your children to sign.