Cyberbullying: Who’s to blame?

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Cyberbullying is the act of bullying through the internet and social media platforms.  While this topic is not new, its effects are pervasive and continuing to  harm America’s youth.

While perusing the news recently, I came across an article about a young girl who committed suicide in Florida after being bullied constantly both in school and over the internet.  This story is incredibly tragic.  Sadly, this incident is not solitary and there are many others that mirror its details.  As someone who has worked with children as a mentor, tutor, and nanny, I believe that there are effective ways to address this problem.

First, I would like to ask the question, “Who’s to blame?” In my opinion, there are two perpetrators in cyberbullying.  The child that is writing and sending the hateful comments, as well as the parent or guardian of that child.  One might ask, if the parent isn’t aware their kid is bullying someone over the internet how are they at fault? To that I respond, the title parent or guardian should immediately imply that it is your duty to know what your child is doing.  Parents play a key role in influencing the activities and choices of their children.  While parents cannot always directly control the behavior of their kids, as adults, they are responsible for the actions of their children and therefore MUST take explicit actions.

The question remains how can this be stopped? My answer: 1) Parent controls & review of internet activities 2) Family discussions with children 3) Doctor’s involvement 4) Legislative action 5) Increased communication between schools and families.

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1) Parent controls & review of internet activities

Similarly to parental controls on what channels and movies a child can watch, it is the role of the parent to set ground rules about different websites.  Besides preventing access to specific sites, the parent could say something along the lines of “when you turn 14 years old you will be allowed to have your own Facebook account.” There is software to also control their activities.  These steps will be taken not only to be aware of your child’s actions, but also to be aware of if they are a victim of bullying.

2) Family discussions with children

The first recommendation will only be successful if there is an open and honest dialogue about cyberbullying and the parent’s expectations of the child.  The parents must be honest and emphasize the importance of communication between the kid and the parent about bullying.  It’s important not only to encourage positive behavior online, but also to report any bullying that the child is aware of.  Additionally, if the child is being given the privilege of access to the internet, the parent should divulge that they will be logging into their kid’s account to review their activities.

Now this might sound like an invasion into their privacy; however, in a study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communicationresearchers from Cornell University and the University of California – Berkeley, while 30 percent of youths admit to having been cyberbullied, only slightly higher than 10 percent of their parents reported that they knew.  Therefore, parents logging into their kid’s accounts is critical in the process of preventing and addressing cyberbullying.

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3) Doctor’s involvement

One might ask, why and how should a primary care physician be involved with cyberbullying? Well, at annual appointments doctor’s ask their patients physical and mental health screening questions.  Do you wear a helmet when you ride your bike? Do you feel safe at home? Many mental health caretakers and researchers have suggested that doctors add questions about internet use to their annual screenings.  Questions asking about type of internet use would give some doctor’s better insight into the potential for their patient to be a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying.  Additionally, as children are under 18 years old the doctor can then relay any concerns they have to the parent and support them in finding any additional resources.

4) Legislative action

After the recent suicide after cyberbullying in Florida, Florida State Lawyer Mark O’Mara committed himself to drafting a proposal that would hold parents accountable for cyberbullying.  While many states and schools have official no bullying and no tolerance policies they are not being 100% affective.  Therefore, in order to encourage parents to do the first two recommendations, it is imperative that there’s a law that holds them accountable for their child’s actions.  This will hopefully not only have parents prevent bullying from occurring but also prompt discussion about the issue overall.

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5) Increased communication between schools and families

Lastly, although this post did not address the actions that the schools themselves should take to address these issues, it is incredibly important that communication is open between families and the school.  The children need a safe space both in school and at home.  As part of parent teacher conferences there should be discussion about the child’s mental health and any issues of bullying.  Additionally, it would be great to put on a community event encouraging parent and children’s attendance to address this issue.

keep calm and stop cyberbullying

10 comments

  1. I think the legislative questions would be a great question for our speaker tonight.

  2. Very interesting topic choice! I was at a conference the other day for a volunteer organization called United Way – I work with a program called Youth Venture and help with kids – and one of the issues that arose during the day was cyberbullying. While social media can be great, one of the downsides is that it’s an easy outlet to attack someone else. Before social networks were around, bullying was limited to time at school. The sad reality now is that because kids are on all these networks, they can never truly escape each other. I agree with you that the cyberbully themselves is not the sole perpetrator. Since children are still developing their own judgment, it is invaluable for those who surround them – parents, teachers, older siblings – to hold them accountable. But while this support is essential, I agree that it’s about time for legislative action to be taken to put a stop to the issue. I am curious to see how this will progress, but I also wonder if there have been any efforts on the part of social networks themselves to address the issue.

  3. I too think that other forms of potential legislative action against cyber bullying would be a great topic to bring up to the speaker tonight. You mentioned Florida legislation that is being proposed to (I assume) hold parents of bullies liable to pay damages to their children’s victims. This is an interesting suggestion and would certainly be the first law of its kind. I wonder what other legislation is in the works to protect minors from cyber bullying. I know that most states have passed bullying and “electronic harassment” laws, but very few include the term “cyberbullying” and fewer have criminal sanctions. Some states’ public schools don’t even have school sanctions in effect for cyber-bullies. I know some updates to laws have been imposed but without any sanctions, what is there to stop bullies? I agree that the current laws are lagging far behind current technology and have little legal effect. Another point of concern in cyber-bullying is what to do about the websites that are enabling such viscous activities to occur on their sites. Very little can be done with current precedent favoring the websites via the 1st amendment. Thus, little can be done by states to regulate the content displayed on these websites.

    On a separate but related note- I recently read about a proposed bill in California and several other states rendering “revenge porn” illegal. In laymen’s terms- revenge porn is the posting of nude photos of your ex on the internet without their permission. This phenomenon has become an increasingly hot topic as it is so wrong on so many levels. And currently, completely out of our control. State legislatures are aiming to criminalize the posting of these photos and videos online but so far nothing has been passed. In my personal opinion the imposition of heavy fines and potential jail-time and active enforcement of these penalties is the best solution to ending cyberbullying and revenge porn once and for all.

  4. I agree with all the post above regarding the legislative aspect in your blog post. Further, I agree that cyber bully has grown in terrifying and disturbing amounts throughout the country and we hear on the news worse stories of innocent lives taken too suddenly due to cyber bullying. However, I do not think it is fair to blame the bully’s parents in every situation. While your points are terrific regarding monitoring your child’s internet presence and conducting family discussions, many families do not have such resources. For instance, a single mother working two jobs to support her children may not have time to read through her daughter’s facebook comments every night. In an ideal family situation those suggestions are great, but simply will not work for every family. I believe the school systems need to get more involved and educate students in daily curriculums the endless punishments one will experience if they take part in bullying so children are aware of the consequences. I agree that parents are also responsible, but it must be a joint effort with the schools and communities.

  5. Marisa, I think this is a great post and one that hits close to home. My co-worker’s fourteen year old daughter committed suicide over cyber-bullying. He had no idea that she was being tormented. Many teenagers don’t feel comfortable confiding in their parents over issues in school. I agree with many of the solutions you’ve posed above. I do think that there has to be legislated punishments for this type of behavior. As Molly pointed out, there has to be better communication between all of the parties involved, schools, students, friends, doctors, parents, etc. I think that your idea of parental approval of content, prior to posting, or other types of controls built into social media platforms is also worth exploring.
    The only issue that I think needs to be more fully vetted is the idea that some parents are themselves bullies. I say this with a particular focus, and that is how it relates to things like sports. For three years, I coached my son’s basketball team. He was probably in kindergarten at the time. It was a great experience. The kids were funny and engaged and would do anything to do a good job on the court. What made it horrible? The parents. The rules of the game where simple. Every kid plays the same amount of time on the court. I had three squads and every squad rotated in fifteen minute intervals. My goal was to provide some basic understanding of the game and pass on some very fundamental skills. But most of all I wanted them to have fun and a little exercise.
    Well at the end of the game I could count on one or two parents telling me that I should have played their son more because that kid or this kid sucks. Seriously? And they wouldn’t discuss it in a hushed voice but rather talking as if they didn’t care who was around. We are talking 5 and 6 year olds – a game where we had to lower the basketball net to six feet just so they could get close to making a shot. Clearly not the NBA. Nor was there a college scholarship on the line or anything that any normal person would care about.
    I live in an affluent community of well educated parents, yet they couldn’t not be jackasses when it came to a slightly competitive environment. If you met them anywhere else, you would think they were the nicest folks.
    Beyond the many great ideas put forth by you and others in this post, to deal with cyber-bullying, has to be developing the self-esteem and self-worth of our children. That regardless of how others may treat them, they are loved and not alone.

  6. Really well-written post! Thanks for your thoughts! I agree with the post and the comments above, cyber-bullying is a huge problem. Millennials have been described as being a generation that’s incredibly close and communicative with their parents. I wonder though with the rise of young adult internet use if this can be said for the generation below us. It seems to me that the internet creates an additional barrier between tweens’ world and their parents. Whether they are the bully or being bullied, I think the amount of time this generation spends on the internet separates them from having as much open dialogue with their parents than perhaps we did and increases the risk for bullying.

  7. Thank you all for your great and insightful posts. Really great point about single parents, and the ability to monitor your child when you’re busy working. I think in this instance, the role of the family doctor and school should try to fill in this gap if possible. Also, incredibly good point about parents being the bullies themselves. I also grew up in a suburban affluent town that was very focused on sports, and have witnessed more than a handful of parents being kicked off the field at my sporting events. If children see their parents behave in this way it not only further supports their ideas of superiority and bullying but would also make it very difficult for that child to seek help if they themselves are the victim of bullying. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and comments!

  8. This is obviously an incredibly pertinent and important subject thanks for posting about it!

    In terms of who is to blame, I think a lot of responsibility clearly falls on the parents of both victims and bullies. In my eyes the parents of victims are responsible for several things. First is that they should teach their child how to react or respond to cyber bullying most efficiently and with as little confrontation as possible. They also have the responsibility of searching for clues or hints that something is wrong and recognizing their child has become a victim. Once this has been done, it is the parents obligation to help put and end to, and prevent and further bullying from said bully.
    It is the obligation of all parents, especially those of bullies, to instil a proper sense or morality in their child, this is the best way to prevent cyber bullying in my opinion.

    I also think that a lot of responsibility resides with the school that these kids attend. After all, this is where these kids are having the majority of their physical interactions with on another, and the environment in which the seed for cyber bullying is usually planted.

  9. […] A 5 step plan to tackle cyberbullying is then proposed – only one of these involves schools in any way, shape or form. For more insight, I strongly recommend you read the entire article. […]

  10. […] MbDaniel. (2013). Boston College Caroll School of management: Cyberbullying who’s to blame. [image]. retrieved from https://isys6621.com/2013/10/29/cyberbullying-whos-to-blame/ […]

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