How is Cyberbullying Different From Mean Behaviour?

Many of us are familiar with the concept of bullying in one way or another, yet we seem to lack a shared understanding of what exactly constitutes bullying behaviour, especially in the context of online bullying. 

Bullying has always been a pervasive youth problem, but only recent generations have been able to perpetuate abuse through Internet-capable technologies. The advent of the Internet and specifically social media has enabled peer rivalries to extend far beyond the school gate, where they continue to escalate behind the screens. 

Cyberbullying refers to the act of using technologies such as smartphones, computers, tablets and cameras in order to ‘hurt their peers socially, psychologically or even physically.’ [eSafety Office. 2018]. While adults use the term cyberbullying, teens will often refer to these incidents as ‘digital dramas’ or just ‘dramas.’

Common Examples of Cyberbullying Behaviours:

  • Account hacking and defamation 
  • Setting up fake accounts to trick or imitate others 
  • Repeatedly trolling or harassing someone online 
  • Sending mean, threatening, or hurtful messages and comments 
  • Encouraging another person to self-harm 
  • Sharing photos and videos of someone without their consent
  • Spreading nasty rumours about another person online 
  • Forcibly excluding someone from an online group 
  • Stealing someone’s passwords or changing their personal information and privacy settings 
  • Image-based abuse
  • Sending unsolicited nude images to someone or coercing someone into sending nudes

The prevalence of young people experiencing cyberbullying vary from 10%-40% depending on age, gender and how cyberbullying is defined. Current Australian data has found that cyberbullying impacts 1 in 8 young people with the most popular platform being smartphones, which 80% of teens use regularly,

Researchers have found that cyberbullying can have a greater detrimental impact on the target than face to face bullying with many reporting feeling depressed, sad, angry and frustrated. Others reveal they are often afraid or embarrassed to go to school as the bullying may continue or their peers who are aware of the incidents as bystanders to the online incidents, may think less of them.

A significant challenge in responding to cyberbullying falls to the young people themselves as it’s unclear which adults should take responsibility for responding to the inappropriate and harmful behaviour. Parents express a lack of understanding, knowledge and time to support their child and schools are unsure about how and when to intervene in online behaviours that occur off-site yet involve their students. Law enforcement is hesitant to get involved unless there is evidence of a crime or a significant threat to someone’s physical safety.

Furthermore, while it’s natural for parents to want to make the hurting stop as quickly as possible (i.e. take away the device, forbid future contact with the aggressor) the most important immediate response is to make sure they feel [and are] safe and convey unconditional support through words and actions.

We need to remember that, when a child is being bullied and they come to a parent for help, all they want is for the bullying to stop. 

Family Conversation Opportunities

  • What are some of the ways people about your age tease each other for fun? Have you seen this teasing become mean? Has it ever happened to you?
  • How can you tell if you’ve hurt someone’s feelings without meaning to? Can you tell if you’re on a screen or would you have to wait until you see them at school?
  • Is it easier to hurt someone’s feelings with a screen between them? Why or why not?
  • If you are being hurt or hurt by the words or actions of someone else or a group of people how would you deal with the situation?
  • If you come and tell us what would you want us to do to help you make the bullying stop?

For further information about reporting and responding to cyberbullying refer to our previous articles:

eBook- How to Tackle Cyberbullying. A Practical Guide for Parents

Different Forms Of Cyberbullying & How To Detect Them

Keep Calm & Report Cyberbullying

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