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All About Cyberbullying

Who’s Vulnerable, How it Works, and What Parents Should Know

Five years ago, a stranger began posting detailed descriptions of my appearance online. This person had strong opinions about me. Once I discovered the posts, I was hooked; I would refresh the application every few minutes to see if this stranger said something new about me. I had no idea who was doing this, but this person had a hold on me. I remember taking a walk in my neighborhood and wondering if someone was watching me. I lost my appetite and couldn’t sleep. The comments weren’t cruel, but they upset me and I was embarrassed. As much as I understood logically that this person was a coward hiding behind a device, the situation was very unsettling. It took me a week before I realized I was being cyberbullied. I deleted the application, and never installed it again. I never found out who did this, and I asked my friends and family not to tell me if there were more posts. 

Cyberbullying is the use of text, email, applications, and online sites to bully. With the growth of technology, this type of bullying and harassment has become easier and more common in all age groups. Anonymity has made bullies braver and their attacks harsher. Adults and children – anyone who uses digital media – can be targets of cyberbullying. 

What does cyberbullying look like?

• Sending or posting cruel or embarrassing comments about someone

• Impersonating someone else to gather personal information about someone (commonly called catfishing)

• Threatening to injure or kill someone

• Hacking into someone’s social networking or gaming profile

• Encouraging someone to commit suicide

• Creating web pages or sites with cruel or embarrassing comments about someone

• Accessing private files or folders on someone else’s device

• Exposing personal information about someone (commonly called doxing)

What can I teach my child to minimize the risk of cyberbullying?

The most important lesson to teach children is this: Nothing is private in the digital world. They need to understand that someone can access their private photo stream. They need to understand that their texts or any postings can be screenshot and shared. Those personal or funny videos that are stored online in a private account can be shared also.

Here’s a rule of thumb for kids: If you can’t show it to your grandparents, then you should not put it on a device. When discussing digital footprints, help your children understand that these footprints are left in cement;
they do not disappear.

What applications are used for cyberbullying? 

This list is not comprehensive, and new applications appear daily. As adults who care about children, we must try to stay informed about the applications and their functions. 

Dating: Grindr/MeetMe/Tinder/Bumble/Skout/Badoo 

These apps use GPS and location services to find potential matches nearby. Although there is a minimum age to use these services, it is effortless to bypass. Users can easily create fake profiles.

Video-sharing: TikTok/YouTube/Cheez

These apps allow users to post videos or make comments about posted videos. Users can create accounts anonymously and bypass
the age requirements.

Chat and messaging: Snapchat Tellonym/Houseparty/Kik/Look/Confide/WhatsApp/Holla/Chatroulette 

These apps allow users to create anonymous accounts and connect with friends and strangers. Users can communicate via text, audio, or video, depending on the app.

Live streaming: Bigo Live/LiveMe/Periscope/Vloggers 

Video bloggers can share live commentary with other users. Vloggers can search for nearby users (strangers) to connect with.

Walkie-talkie: Zello/Voxer/TwoWay 

These push-to-talk apps enable users to exchange short audio or text messages with friends or strangers. Users can create anonymous accounts and bypass the age requirements.

Anonymous message boards or confession: Whisper/Reddit/

These applications give users the ability to post text and photos and/or ask questions and receive answers. The applications are anonymous.

Social media: Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr 

These applications allow users to share text, photos, or videos online. Users can create accounts anonymously and comment on posts by other users.

Gaming: Xbox/Switch/Playstation/Minecraft/Roblox

This category is more comprehensive and includes consoles, tablets, phones, and computers. Video game developers create games that allow users to connect with friends or strangers online. Users can create avatars or profiles anonymously and without
age verification.

How can I learn more about my child’s online activities?

Take time to discover what applications and sites your child uses. Check devices for frequently used applications and websites. Have your child show you how to use the applications and review the privacy settings. Consider creating accounts on the applications and connect with or follow your child, or use your child’s account to explore. Unfortunately, some of the applications have content that disappears, so you may not be able to monitor all activity. Explain to your child that if he witnesses cyberbullying, he should tell an adult and do something about it. For parents with younger children, create the profile for your child (once they meet the age requirements) after discussing cyberbullying and cyber safety. Also, programs exist to help you monitor your child’s digital activities, but keep in mind that they may not track everything.

How can I tell if my child is being cyberbullied?  

Symptoms are similar to those of victims of bullying that occur in real life. Here are some behaviors to look for:

• Agitation when looking at a device

• Restlessness at night and/or sleepiness during the day

• Fixation on a device

• Skittishness about leaving the house

• Angry outbursts at a device

• Evasiveness when asked about online activity

• Isolation from family and friends

• Unexplained health symptoms like headaches or stomachaches

• Suicidal thoughts, statements, or attempts

What can I do if my child is cyberbullied?

Most importantly, work with your child to take steps that help your child regain control. First, block the cyberbully, then delete the application or block the site. You might also talk to the parents of the cyberbully, if appropriate. I recommend reporting the cyberbully and cyberbullying through the application and/or website. Also, report the incident of cyberbullying to the school and legal authorities if warranted.

Lastly, you know your child. It’s important to consider professional support in the form of counseling or therapy based on the severity of the cyberbullying. After all, I am a professional adult with a career in tech, and five years later, my experience with cyberbullying still lingers. Imagine how a child might process this experience,  and be prepared to respond. 

Shahwar Qureshi is the director of technology at The Steward School where she spends her days enhancing education through the use of technology. When she is not at work, she is searching for adventures of the unconnected variety with her husband and two children. 
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