In 2006, Megan Meier hung herself in her closet, just days before her 14th birthday. The middle schooler had been the victim of a cyber bullying scheme cooked up by an adult neighbor and her daughter in the neighborhood. They created a false boy on MySpace, “courted” Megan, and then turned on her with awful statements and ridicule.
According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds. Many of these suicides, of course, relate to depression and other mental illness, but a significant number are the result of bullying and, more recently, cyberbullying. Students identified as “targets” by bullies include those who are in the LGBT community, those who are introverted and withdrawn, those who are considered “nerds,” those who are not considered “attractive,” or those who pose a “threat” to a group of peers because they have looked, talents, etc. of which that group is envious.
The problem with cyberbullying is that it can be anonymous. There are also no time limitations, so it can continue all the time, especially when bullies act as a group. And the bullies have less inhibition when they carry out their activities online rather than in person – they can thus be more aggressive.
Some Strategies That Can Help
Bullying will never be completely eradicated because bullies have certain emotional conditions that will not be eradicated. A child who is bullied at home, for example, may easily become a bully at school; a child who has a deep-seated lack of self-esteem may join a group of bullies and participate in making himself feel better. It becomes a pattern of behavior and often continues into adulthood.
So, what can be done to prevent it? While this is a field of ongoing research which is still incomplete, here are some strategies that may help.
- Start early with education and training. Kids need to know early on that cyberbullying is not “cool.” Many school districts are bringing older students into classrooms – students that younger kids will look up to – to talk about cyberbullying. When the captain of the high school football team arrives in a 3rd-grade class, kids will sit up and listen.
- Use videos and statements of celebrities who have joined the anti-bullying campaigns. Kids will certainly relate to someone like Justin Bieber. Do some research and find out what celebrities are seriously involved in anti-bullying and use their statements.
- Dominika Carver, an educational blogger for Canada-Writers suggests making cyberbullying a part of a larger curricular program on Internet use and safety. “At the end of the unit on cyberbullying, have students sign a pledge not to engage in any type of bullying, including cyberbullying. This pledge should be signed every year.”
- Students, as they move into middle and high school, need to be made aware of both the psychological and legal consequences of bullying. Many states now have laws with penalties for juveniles and for adults who engage in cyberbullying.
- Involve parents: when cyberbullying is discovered, parents need to know. There are steps they can take at home. Victims must block any bullies immediately. In fact, in a recent study 70% of teen victims stated that when they blocked the perpetrators, even the face-to-face bullying stopped. When a victim takes steps to stop being a cyber victim, the bully gets no satisfaction from his/her actions and is less prone to be aggressive in person.
- Treat bullies firmly but also understand that they have emotional issues that result in this behavior. Intervening with consequences should also come with help.
- Continue to read the research. Teachers and parents both should read all they can about the issue and take suggestions from all sources that might provide help to stop cyberbullying.
- Assign essays about the topic. Students can read or view stories related to cyberbullying and respond to them in a written piece. High school and college writing can include research papers on the topic.
- Respond immediately to both victims and bullies in the cyberbullying cycle. This will demonstrate that there is a zero-tolerance policy for the actions and that you will intervene. This also provides some sense of security to the victim to know that there are empathy and support.
- Victims need to know that there is someone in their home, school or even church environment within whom they can confide in confidence. That person must empathize of course but also be prepared to give that victim-specific strategy to deal with the bully. Responding in kind generally does not work. Ignoring by blocking takes some power away from the bully. This is a hard thing to do because victims can become anxious about not knowing what is being said, but over time this dissipates, and the bully cannot achieve his/her goal.
There will always be bullies of every age. They need help, and many will neither seek nor accept it. That is their choice. The choice of the victim, with lots of support, is to ignore, to not respond, and to have an outlet to express their anger, their sadness, and their anxiety.
Find more ways to balance kids and technology in the book
Strong Roots Have No Fear