When a child or teen is bullied at school by a peer, or when an adult is bullied in the workplace, the victim most often has some options when it comes to trying to make it end. Parents, teachers, school counselors, line managers and HR professionals are usually well-versed in bringing all affected parties to the table and reaching a resolution.
But the nature of our social lives in the digital age is changing – fast. Nowadays, a vast majority of our interactions happen online, with some teens spending as much as 9 hours per day on the internet. From Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Periscope to WhatsApp and even good old email, the breeding ground for bullying has never been bigger.
And while bullying in the real world and online have similar mental and emotional effects on their victims, a key difference between them is the secrecy and invisible nature of online bullying. The challenges of identifying and addressing serious cases of cyberbullying are made all the more complicated by several important factors. If we are to bring cyberbullying under control, each will have to be addressed.
Spotting the signs
Unlike schoolyard scrapes and bruises, cyberbullying often leaves no physical trace for parents to pick up on – it’s up to the victims to bring it to their attention. Sadly, this often doesn’t happen due to the secrecy around online behaviours and the fact that there is often an element of coercion to the bullying. This is why cases of bullying have often spiraled into extreme levels of destructiveness by the time a teen comes to their parents for help.
Take the first step in protecting your children from cyberbullying
Agreeing on the definition
Punching or kicking someone is a clear-cut case of violence, but cyberbullying often blurs the lines as to what behaviors need to be addressed by parents, and what behaviors are normal for teens. With parents and schools struggling to agree on what exactly constitutes cyberbullying, the formation of policies and official processes to address this problem remains difficult. At what point does unkind behaviour cross the line into bullying? This is a question that will need to be answered in detail if a definition is to be agreed upon.
Unclear school policies
Many schools have outdated policies when it comes to bullying, and most of these policies do not take cyberbullying into adequate account. Is it the school’s responsibility to intervene if the bullying took place after school hours and off school grounds? Should parents attempt to solve the problem without involving school representatives, or should teachers be involved? How will the investigation process be undertaken? Should a counselor be necessary to the process? Until schools are able to answer all these questions, victims can often feel unsure about approaching their teachers about cases of cyberbullying.
Solutions are focused mainly on the victim
While the victim does need support and recourse to address cases of cyberbullying, the truth is that, like real-world bullying, cyberbullying affects many more people than one might realise. Other students and their parents live in a culture of fear and anxiety, and this stress even extends to the family and friends of the perpetrator. Effectively ending cyberbullying requires a holistic solution that speaks to the root causes and methods of cyberbullying, not only assisting the victims.
Parents are unsure about what to do
Without a clear course of action to turn to, parents of victims can often feel helpless when cyberbullying rears its ugly head. Should they approach the bully’s parents directly? Should they go through the school? If there has been any illegal behavior (blackmail, hacking, etc.), should they go directly to the police? Should they get a lawyer involved? Confusion regarding what official recourses are available (and which ones are likely to be effective) can complicate and lengthen the resolution process.