As virtually every adult over the age of thirty is painfully aware, bullying is not something that sprang into existence with the invention of cellphones. Kids have been harassing each other to one degree or another since the dawn of time.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that mobile devices DO make bullying worse. Here are a few reasons why that’s true:
It’s Easy and It’s Remote. With mobile devices, bullying no longer involves physical confrontation. Mean and hurtful things can be said from a distance, with the click of a few buttons. This reduces the impediments to bullying, and may lure some kids into being mean who wouldn’t otherwise.
There’s a Perception of Anonymity. Many kids think that they can bully or harass other kids online because the Internet makes it possible to do so anonymously. While it is true that identity can be masked online, few kids realize how difficult it is to be perfectly anonymous. More importantly, neither kids (nor their parents) realize just how powerful and sophisticated law enforcement investigations are these days.
The Cloud of Bullying. Before computers came along, bullying victims could take some thin comfort in the fact that there were ways to escape — a protective teacher’s classroom, a friend’s house, their own home. But as bullying became increasingly cyber, it became more and more difficult for kids to leave their bullies behind. The insidious trap is that the same devices that kids rely upon for socialization and friendship can easily become a powerful vector for seemingly endless harassment.
Speed and Permanence. When bullying occurs online, it is can spread like a California wildfire driven by Santa Ana winds. Teens and pre-teens are inherently drawn to drama, and it’s difficult to stamp out online fights when they start. At the same time, it’s extremely difficult to remove any content from the Internet. To paraphrase the famous ad slogan, “what happens online, stays online.”
So what can parents do? Three things:
1) Recognize that there’s no way to completely prevent cyberbullying, and that the tremendous benefits of the Internet and mobile devices come with some risk;
2) Watch children for behavioral changes (skipping school, lower grades, greater-than-usual mood swings, etc.), and supervise device usage and the devices themselves; and
3) Communicate and educate. Be aware of online friends, talk to other parents, and remind every child of the Internet’s golden rule: “Post about others as you would have them post about you.”
The goal is to help kids keep things in perspective. What are your tips for helping kids through the electronic swamp of cyber-adolescence?