Cyber bullying is on the rise, but parents and schools often have little idea what they can do proactively to reduce the effects of cyber-bullying in their family or group.
Two out of three children have experienced bullying via the Internet or mobile phones, according to a survey by Telenor in 2008 in Norway. The survey also shows that parents are uncertain about what to do about this kind of bullying.
Research Fellow Tove Flack at the Centre for Behavioural Research (SAF) at the University of Stavanger in Norway does counseling in anti-bullying, including the centre’s program “zero” where zero tolerance for bullying and active involvement are important concepts. Zero gives schools advice on how to prevent, detect and solve problems.
Flack has particularly focused on hidden bullying. For many victims of bullying, cyber-bullying is just one of several ways in which they are being harassed. This may mean that they never have any safe place.
“At school, they are left out or maligned and when they come home they receive insults on mobile phones and net. Access to social media in recent years has unfortunately given us some new bullying tools,” Flack said.
She said the term “bullying” means experiencing harassment on a regular basis over time. When it comes to cyber-bullying, it is important to distinguish between those who are often harassed and those who have experienced harassment only occasionally, she said.
Cyber-bullying takes place both through image and text. Many young people have endured seeing a picture they would never have shown to anyone, spread online to everyone. Others have had to read offensive characterizations of themselves and know they are shared with the general public.
And it may be easier to bully someone through social media than face to face.
“When friends sit together, it may seem easy and non-committal to send off an anonymous message with a disrespectful message to another person. It is not unknown that hate groups are formed online, where children or young people unite to hate a particular person. Digital bullying can result in a person being frozen out by having that individual deleted from Facebook or from the contact list on one’s mobile,” Flack said.
For adults it can be difficult enough to discover traditional bullying. It is important to have zero tolerance for bullying via the Internet, she said, just as there should be zero tolerance for all types of harassment.
Twice as many girls as boys report having been bullied digitally, according to a survey conducted by TNS Gallup. The survey showed that social networking, SMS and instant messaging are the most widely used avenues for bullying.
Children and teens are often unaware of the impact their words can have online, and that they are accountable for what they do online. Many do not realize they may be prosecuted when they violate or threaten others via the Net, Flack said.
Flack emphasized that schools must take steps to gain control of bullying situations. She said schools and parents should teach online “netiquette” early on and inform kids about the dangers of cyber-bullying.
In his doctoral work, Research Fellow Arne Olav Nygard at the Reading Centre has followed teaching in secondary schools. He warned against easy solutions in the fight against cyber-bullying.
“To deny students the use of technology at school or at home is the wrong way to go,” Nygard said, who has helped educate parents with simple rules they can stick to.
“In my view, bullying is first and foremost a social problem,” he said. “To remove the PC and mobile phone is the easiest solution, but it should be the last one, for that is not where the problem is.”
Nygard said bullying will find new channels in the digital networks, and that it may have other, unintended consequences. He still believes that adults also need to engage in, observe and learn the logic of the digital world. “This will make it difficult for children to have a secret digital life,” he believes.
“Parents can achieve a lot by being present. One measure might be to put the computer in the living room or in another central room. When the children have to sit near adults, they also see that the adults are included. Children should also learn to use their full names on the network,” Nygard said.
Five tips to avoid cyber-bullying:
1. Take bullying through social media seriously;
2. Talk with children and young people about Internet use and netiquette;
3. Get involved in children’s Internet use and become friends with your children on Facebook;
4. Remember to save harassment and threats on hard disk and mobile devices;
5. Contact the police if you suspect online bullying.
Source: University of Stavanger