Preventing Cyberbullying: A Practical Guide (Guest Post)

This week’s post is by parent and freelance writer Hilary Smith.

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If you don’t have kids, you might not have thought about cyberbullying lately – but more than twenty million teenagers (yes, that’s the right number) have been bullied online, and many of those incidents have more than one perpetrator.

At the core, though, cyberbullying is a lot like infrastructure – we all know it’s a problem, but we’re expecting someone else to take care of it. However, all of us have to get involved, because cyberbullying affects everyone. Whether you’re a concerned parent, an employer searching for motivated workers, or just someone who wants to see other people smiling, this is something we have to address.

Why?

Put simply, cyberbullying has long-term negative effects that can drag a person down for years – possibly even for the rest of their life. In general, they trend towards earning less money, being less happy, and having less motivation in their day-to-day life. That’s no way for anyone to live, and people who bully others when they’re young often continue doing it as adults.

Let’s look at some practical ways to stop this.

1) Start Young

The best time to stop bullying is when people are young – after all, the habits they learn as children are likely to stick with them into adulthood. This requires a two-pronged approach.

First, the victims. As a whole, bullies tend to go after the weak and vulnerable – but that’s no longer the shy kid in the back of the class who always has his nose in a book. The advent of technology means that anyone can be a victim. However, bullying only works if its threats are able to overcome a child’s innate self-esteem and confidence – thus, people who refuse to be shaken by bullying attempts are effectively immune to it happening, and anyone who tries will soon give up.

However, the bullies need attention, too. The US Government has done a lot of research into bullying, and those who exhibited such behaviors by middle school had a 60% of having a criminal conviction by age 24. Nipping this in the bud and making it clear that some behaviors are unacceptable won’t just help victims avoid the long-term consequences – it will help the bullies become better, happier people as well.

When we work together to stop bullying, everyone benefits.

2) Speak Up

It’s not hard to figure out why people don’t speak up about normal bullying – no kid wants to be the next target. What about cyberbullying, though, when it’s actually easy for children to anonymously report a bully?

This is a bit tougher. Sometimes, the bully threatens everyone who can see the message. Other times, the victim is too afraid of certain consequences (such as having internet access taken away from them) to speak up. Honestly, the why isn’t very important here – what matters is that only about 10% of cyberbullying cases are ever reported to someone in authority, and that needs to change.

At every age, people need to be told to speak up when cyberbullying happens – the more comfortable they are speaking up, the easier it is to put a stop to things. When bullies constantly find their victims speaking up (regardless of threats), that helps them learn that bullying simply doesn’t work… and most of them will stop doing it.

3) Keep An Eye On Things

Unfortunately, willingness to talk is something that can only happen on a case-by-case basis… but there are ways of motivating it. Chief among these is monitoring someone’s communications, especially before they become a legal adult. As long as you know how to do this right, most teenagers are willing to agree to having their texts and social media posts watched – and more importantly, if they know you’re watching, they’re far more likely to speak up if something’s wrong. You’ll find out either way, so why be quiet?

Remember, Bullying Isn’t Natural

Bullying – cyber or otherwise – is often seen as a rite of passage and “something that kids do”. It’s not. Bullying has never been natural – in many cases, it’s simply bad behavior that nobody has put a stop to. Getting rid of this problem requires help from everyone – and even if you’re not raising a kid yourself, you can support local schools and anti-bullying programs in their efforts to stamp out this issue. Start when people are young, have them speak up when they see something, and keep reinforcing this throughout their lives – that’s how you stop cyberbullying.

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