The downside of the digital age - Cyberbullying

By Sonja Schweiger for OurKids.net, Canada's trusted source for camps and schools on December 12, 2012
Bullying is an increasing problem among young people in Canada. Although picking on the smaller kid or teasing the new girl may seem like old news, the beast that is bullying is taking on new and more serious forms. In a time where teen suicide rates are high and anything “different” is a target, the digital age, with all of its conveniences, has brought an opportunity for a new kind of bullying – one that threatens to leave its mark more permanently than any other form before it – cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is defined as one young adult being maliciously tormented, harassed, threatened, humiliated, demeaned or otherwise targeted by another using a digital resource. Bullies may set up degrading websites, threaten the victim through text message, create hateful chain e-mails or post embarrassing pictures or videos online. Cyberbullying is a relatively new form of bullying but unlike other varieties, it takes on a much wider spectrum of behaviours. It can be social, verbal and psychological, and opens the door to much more serious problems such as sexual harassment and cyber-stalking.

Negative effects for victim

The negative effects of cyberbullying are far-reaching for both parties involved. For the victim, being cyber bullied is a harrowing experience. The images and words cruelly plastered on Facebook walls and websites not only sting on a personal level, but are there for the internet to see. Instead of being limited to a few teenagers in a cafeteria, the bullying becomes wildly public and all the more humiliating. This availability to everyone with internet access provides an opportunity for more spiteful comments, as well as the decimation of reputations on a worldwide scale. Moreover, ability to use the all-important internet as a safe resource and learning tool is taken away from the student.

Negatives effects for bully

Despite the extensive list of destructive effects, cyberbullying is still seen as a “popular” kind of bullying. The danger is that it is so much easier to say something harmful behind the perceived safety of a computer screen. Anger over a small incident can quickly escalate over messaging, especially since true emotions are removed from the conversation.  The ability to appear anonymous is attractive but deceiving. Students, even those who would not normally engage in bullying are much more likely to participate in kicking down a classmate if their identities remain unknown.

A Mississauga student, and victim of hateful chainmail, remarks, “It’s so much more powerful because this way, you can seriously hurt a person mentally, without ‘getting blood on your hands’ and exposing yourself to be heartless.” This feeling of detachment from the actual harassment can be incredibly risky for the bully. Online activity can be tracked and used by authorities to spot particularly malicious teens, especially in dire cases of death threats or suicides. The consequences are dire for the tormenters – anywhere from staying unemployed to being charged with harassment.

What are schools doing?

Fortunately, schools all over the country are taking action. As a response to cyberbullying, many schools hold assemblies and workshops to raise awareness and try to minimize the effects. Schools often call in local police officers to inform students of the severe consequences of bullying.  However, cautionary tales are not the most effective way to reach teenage bullies, something many administrators are beginning to realize. The best way to stop bullying is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Cawthra Park, a leading school in the Peel Board in bullying prevention, is taking action. The school promotes anti-bullying day, where students wear pink in support of acceptance and has a school support line, and has a committee of parents dedicated to helping stop bullying. “I believe that it is up to us as friends and peers to finally put an end to bullying” says one Cawthra student, who continues to say, “One simple step to stop bullying dead in its tracks will go a long way. Let our generation be the generation of change.” Fostering a spirit of acceptance and responsibility in schools is what keeps bullying from being taken outside the classroom and onto the web.

Parents too are recognizing the importance of letting cyberbullying die out along with VHS tapes and MySpace. It is almost impossible to erase all traces of an action on the internet. As children become more computer literate, cyberbullying becomes more and more common – and both the victim and the bully are left with an ugly online footprint that can follow them for the rest of their lives. The concept that what happens on the internet is essentially there forever is extremely important to instill in children.  Teaching them digital responsibility and tactfulness on the internet from a young age goes a long way in preventing the spread of cyberbullying.

The internet may be an increasingly essential part of young people’s lives today, but cyberbullying should never be. Many students grudgingly admit cyberbullying is a normal part of online life – let’s change that.

The downside of the digital age - Cyberbullying was originally posted by ourkids.net. Our Kids is Canada's trusted source for information on private schools and summer camps.

By Sonja Schweiger for OurKids.net, Canada's trusted source for camps and schools| December 12, 2012

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