Bullying someone in person is soooo 20th century. Cyberbullying is the new way for tweens and teens to bully, and it differs from traditional schoolyard bullying in significant ways.
Most of us know about schoolyard bullying, and have probably seen it for ourselves at some point during our journey through adolescence. Someone might have spread a dirty rumor about a classmate in the hallways at school or scrawled “For a good time call Kathy” on the inside of a bathroom stall with a Sharpie.
But cyberbullying is very different from the kind of bullying we know, for three reasons:
- 24/7 access. The Internet never sleeps. Cyberbullied kids live in a plugged-in world where they feel trapped and desperate because they can't escape from harassing emails, text messages, or Wall posts. They are always aware of them.
- Bigger audience. Cyberbullying plays out on a worldwide scale. If someone plays a trick on a classmate after gym class, only the handful of people in the locker room and the handful of people they brag to will ever know about it. When an embarrassing picture or text goes viral, the whole school (plus a lot of strangers) sees it.
- Cyberbullying lives forever. Every word and picture is recorded online, and the victim may never be able to erase it from the Internet. Even if they can, who knows how many people have downloaded it onto their own phone or computer already? Cyberbullying has a long, long life.
However, the news isn't all bad. Even though the effects can be more far-reaching, cyberbullying is sometimes easier to deal with than traditional schoolyard bullying.
For one, there is a trail. Cyberbullying leaves hard proof to show parents, teachers, or even police if it gets out of control.
Also, many kids who cyberbully aren't really the bullying type – if you remove the anonymity of the Internet and confront them in person they'll stop.
So even though all the ramped-up media coverage of cyberbullying is freaking you out, the good news is that you have a better chance of knowing if your child is being cyberbullied than your mother did detecting schoolyard bullying with you.
Before the Internet, parents of bullied kids might have noticed behavioral changes in their children but had no clue why. Now you can check the record of your child's online activity (which you should be doing anyway, regardless of whether you suspect cyberbullying or not,) and see hard evidence of cyberbullying.
Remember though, that cyberbullying and schoolyard bullying often go hand-in-hand, so be on the lookout for signs of both.
Jenny Evans is a mother of four and a freelance writer specializing in parenting, childhood, and family issues.