Cyberbullies SUCK - Just Sayin
I bet you didn't know that October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Much like Red Ribbon Week, when schools pledge to be drug free and participate in "You're Too Cool For Drugs, Wear Sunglasses on Thursday" dress up days, Bully Prevention Month can be full of pledges recited by students, wearing certain colors that bring awareness, and participating in kindness events. But, remember, the effectiveness of a campaign is equal to the drive and passion embodied by the people that carry out said campaign. This makes me wonder...how driven are we to ending the plague of cyberbullying?
As a teacher, I have committed the definition of “bully” to heart. I recite it every year numerous times in order to teach the true meaning because students use the term “bully” loosely at times. If a person is doing or saying something that hurts someone’s feelings unintentionally, that is “rude”. If a person is doing or saying something that hurts someone’s feelings intentionally, but they stop when they are reprimanded, that is “mean”. If a person is doing or saying something that hurts someone’s feelings intentionally and repeatedly even after being told to stop, that is a “bully”. A cyberbully, much like a traditional bully, intentionally hurts someone’s feelings repeatedly, except they use an electronic format. Our society has instilled the phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Time has proven that this is just not a true statement. Words cut like a knife, and they hurt even worse when put on public display for eternity. This is exactly what happens when cyberbullying occurs. These figurative sticks and stones can wear down the already fragile self-esteem of a young teen so much that they feel the only way out is to take their own life. Unfortunately, this happens more than we think, and it sucks.
Various studies have been conducted that investigate the many factors of cyberbullying. Who is more likely to participate in cyberbullying? Who is prone to being a victim? The results are vague, meaning that all kinds of people can be involved in cyberbullying. However, three psychosocial factors have proven to have a strong correlation in cyberbullying. These factors relate to the attitudes people have of themselves, how alone someone feels, and the quality of empathy, or lack thereof (Brewer & Kerslake, 2015). The fact is that everyone is affected by cyber bullying. The direct victim suffers greatly, but so do the family members of that victim. They have to witness the negative side effects caused by harassment, impersonation, denigration, outing, and other forms of cyberbullying (Siegle, 2010). People who witness the cyberbullying take place are affected as well as friends of both parties involved in the cyberbullying. The only way to combat this plague of the digital age is to be proactive!
Some people may remember the 2002 “Buckle Up. Stay Alive” campaign, or the “Click it Or Ticket” campaign (“Click It or Ticket,” 2021). These slogans were made popular by a strong demand for car passengers to put on their seat belt while in a moving vehicle. Prior to this campaign, the majority of drivers did not wear seat belts, and if they did, the passengers in the back seat definitely did not. Police officers made a point to give tickets to anyone not wearing a seat belt, billboards were visible all over, and commercials were broadcast nationally to instill this new awareness among the masses. Fast forward 20 years, a shift in culture has taken place and wearing a seat belt is the norm. This is what needs to happen with cyberbullying! A massive, collaborative effort to bring awareness to the end of online harassment and unethical behavior must take place in order for a culture shift to occur. Schools should implement effective digital citizenship programs that model appropriate online behavior, allow for role-play of scenarios, and instill kindness, compassion, and empathy in person as well as online. These programs should not just stop at the door of the school, but also be carried out by households, businesses, and organizations alike. A slogan should be created along with a visual representation of the campaign, a spokesperson, and even a marketing component. Just like “Click or Ticket”, “Stop, Drop, and Roll”, and even “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”, cyberbullying should have a catchy phrase. Software such as GoGuardian can block inappropriate content and alert administration if suspicious activity is taking place, but the best method of attack is knowledge. We must educate our young people and guide them in ethical and moral online interactions. If society does not invest in a proactive measure to attack unethical behavior online, they will pay for it greatly in the future.
Brewer, G., & Kerslake, J. (2015). Cyberbullying, self-esteem, empathy and loneliness. Computers in Human Behavior, 48, 255-260. Brewer_Cyberbullying_Self-esteem_Empathy_Loneliness.pdf
Click It or Ticket. (2021). Retrieved June 27, 2021, from Txdot.gov website: https://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/media-center/psas/seat-belts/clickit.html
Siegle, D.(2010). Cyberbullying and sexting: Technology abuses of the 21st century. Gifted Child Today, 32(2), 14-16, 65. Siegle_Cyberbullying_and_Sexting.pdf