Just like with “traditional bullying”, it’s close to impossible to eliminate cyberbullying entirely. The fact of the matter is, online anonymity not only makes it easier than ever to be mean and cruel, but it makes it easier to be mean and cruel on a massive scale.
Two things that we can do—as a community, as website operators, as parents and educators—is teach our children and students how to be responsible, respectful online citizens, and then make available to them positive online communities where their interests are supported and their safety is a priority.
Unfortunately this support and education is lacking from both sides of the playing field. On one end, we have only a handful of social networks and online communities that actually care about online safety for children; and on the other end, we have parents who aren’t nearly as informed and educated about issues like cyberbullying and online privacy as they should be.
To give you an example, in a recent survey that we conducted among our parent network, we found that when it came to their children being online, the number one concern that parents had was sexual predators. However, when we conducted a second survey, this time among our Yoursphere youth members, the results showed that cyberbullying is the biggest concern among kids in stark contrast to the concerns of their parents. In fact, more than 50% of kids who took the survey know someone who has been cyberbullied online.
These statistics hold true to, if not exceed what other surveys have found in recent months.
- More than 1 in 3 children have been threatened online.
- Over 25% of kids and teens have been bullied through their cell phones.
To bring this full-circle, the question that begs to be asked here is: Shouldn’t parents have the same safety concern(s) as their children? And why don’t they?
I believe it’s due to a lack of communication specific to Internet safety between kids and their parents. Not because parents don’t care, but because parents don’t know to care. That’s why I always encourage parents to dialogue, dialogue, dialogue with their kids about everything they do online and to become involved in their children’s online activities: know what sites they go to; understand the culture of those sites; go 7 – 10 pages deep to understand the content and culture your kids are exposed to; teach personal responsibility. As well, parents should always keep an eye open for suspicious behavior like anger and frustration when their child is on the Internet or texting/talking on their phone.
Kids Can Stop Cyberbullying
Equally important is that kids teach other kids about cyberbullying, why it’s wrong, and advice on how to handle it. Internet safety advocate and an online friend of mine, Mike Dermody, said it well. He said that, in the end, the most effective way for kids to become aware of the dangers that are online is for other kids (typically older teens that they can look up to) lead by example. So we asked Yoursphere members what advice they would give to other kids about not getting involved in bullying. Here are some answers that I particularly liked:
- If someone IS trying to bully, try your best to ignore them. They like when you get mad, because then they know they can bully you. Also, you should try telling an adult.
- My advice when matters come to ONLINE bullying, don’t reply, block, tell an adult & person who is doing this bullying. As I would know that it’s tempting to get back at them, but that just gets you in trouble with the law also.
- I would tell an adult immediately and definitely not keep it secret. Also, I would block that user from contacting you again.
- try to think good of yourself and know that what they are saying or doing is most likely not true. One more thing is that bullies only bully because they feel bad about themselves.
- Well they could ask themselves if they like being bullied. If they say no then why would they bully others. You should treat people how you want to be treated.
- What would your parents think if you told them you bullied someone and that’s what you did with your day? They would think that’s NOT cool.
Preventative Measures to Stop Cyberbullying
Though we pride ourselves in cyberbullying prevention, education and moderation in Yoursphere, our technology and our human oversight aren’t fool-proof, and we know that some of our members will eventually encounter cyberbullying of some kind.
When we asked our members if they’ve ever been bullied in Yoursphere, we did receive a few yes’ and the extent of the bullying related to name calling. Those who said yes also said that they reported the bullying to the Yoursphere team or a trusted adult and the issue was eventually eradicated. In fact, one member told us they had bullied another member then went back to them and apologized! (I’m very proud of that member and was pleased to receive a note from the bullied-members mother thanking us for what we’re trying to teach our members.)
One way we curtail cyberbullying in Yoursphere is by posting Internet-safety messages throughout the site. These usually take form in things like safety banners and “Did You Know?” information pages. However, we’re always looking to see which methods are most effective and what can be done on our end to keep things nice and respectful in the Yoursphere community, so we asked members what they think has helped keep it that way. Here are some of the responses we got:
- The reminders everywhere. I will sometimes forget, then see one and remember.
- The question of the weeks, it helped see just how similar we were with one another, and I made lots of new friends through the spheres.
- People are respectful and actually care about other people’s feelings! It makes someone who feels like they are invisible feel like they are very special which they are!
- Well, people encourage others to do nice things and not be so mean, so that really helps a lot.
- I think the credit reward system has really worked well. It motivates people to be nice, although I think that people shouldn’t be nice just to receive credits.
- Parents can check on their kids on here and check if they’re ok.