Teenagers have always faced bullying, but modern technology has created new methods of harassment. These days, instead of simply taunting a rival in the locker room at school, teenagers can use text messages, social media, and other online platforms to harass each other night and day, both publicly and in private.
Cyberbullying has become widespread in recent years, with recent studies showing that 52% of teens have been cyberbullied. Cyberbullying is not only on the rise; it can also have serious consequences for both the teen being bullied and the perpetrator.
What Qualifies as Cyberbullying?
Simply put, cyberbullying means using technology to harass, taunt, threaten, or embarrass someone. Examples of cyberbullying include:
- Spreading malicious rumors about classmates via text or social media
- Sending cruel messages to someone directly through email, text, IM, etc.
- Circulating private, potentially embarrassing messages that were only intended for one person to a group of classmates. For example, if following a break-up, a girl’s ex-boyfriend forwards private risqué photos to his friends, this can be considered cyberbullying.
- Using social media to pretend to be another person, and then posting embarrassing or otherwise damaging messages under that person’s name.
- Hacking into a classmate’s email or social media and sending messages as the classmate.
Potentially Serious Consequences
While cyberbullying may sometimes start out as a seemingly harmless joke amongst friends, it can quickly get out of control and lead to severe consequences for everyone involved.
Victims of cyberbullying may experience depression and anxiety, and have trouble doing well in school. Tragically, some cyberbullying victims have even committed suicide, including 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who killed herself after months of online harassment from classmates.
Teens who are caught cyberbullying face consequences ranging from being in trouble at home, to school suspension, all the way to being officially charged with a crime.
What Can Parents Do?
Whether you’re worried your child is being harassed online, or scared your teen may be cyberbullying someone, you don’t need to feel helpless in the face of cyberbullying. Some things parents can do to help deter cyberbullying include:
- Don’t overreact if you suspect your child is involved in cyberbullying. Your teenager may be afraid to tell you the truth if they believe you will yell at them or take away their Internet privileges prematurely. Talk to them about your suspicions in a calm, non-judgmental manner and they will be more likely to open up.
- Agree as a family to create some transparency and boundaries where Internet safety is concerned. Some families find that keeping the computer in a family area, instead of a teen’s bedroom, helps a lot. In some situations it may be appropriate to have shared passwords and to monitor your teen’s social media accounts, ideally with their knowledge.
- If your child is being threatened online, take these threats seriously and contact their school as well as the appropriate law enforcement officials.
- If your child seems distraught and fearful, don’t ignore it! Let them know they can talk to you, or open up to a professional. You may want to speak to the school counselor or set up an appointment for your child with a psychologist who works with adolescents.
The Law in Georgia
Georgia uses stalking statutes to prosecute this crime (OCGA 16-5-90). Each school board must also adopt their own policy to prohibit cyberbullying.