Cyberbullying: What Is It? How Can We Handle It and Reduce the Risk?


Monday November 9, 2020


Cyberbullying is becoming increasingly common, as we spend more time online, beginning at younger ages. Child Life intern, Shane Smith, explores the defining features of cyberbullies, what we can do to limit the risk of unwanted attention and protect our security online, and how we can handle cyberbullying and support affected children.


An illustrated tween girl crouching on the ground, clutching her knees and crying. She is surrounded by thought bubbles of the 'thumbs down' emoji.
An illustrated green goblin with horns, sharp teeth, and a devil's tail. The goblin has a menacing look and is walking outward from the page towards the reader.
An illustrated tween boy crouching on a giant cell phone, clutching his knees and crying. He is surrounded by thought bubbles of the 'thumbs down' emoji.

The internet is a magnificent tool that puts the wonders of the world at our fingertips.  As the number of useful applications continues to evolve, we find ourselves logging on more often and at younger ages.  People love that they can see Mount Everest, discover the newest YouTube sensation, and share a laugh with far away family and friends all at the click of a button.

In this vast ocean of virtual possibilities however, lies a troublesome and often faceless shapeshifter known as the cyberbully.  Luckily, there are plenty of tips, tricks and support in place to protect us from these hurtful online disruptors.

What Is A Cyberbully?

A cyberbully is someone who participates in online bullying, also called cyber harassment.  Their repetitive and intentionally hurtful tactics take on many forms, such as:

  • sending or posting hurtful comments
  • re-posting texts, pictures, or videos out of their intended context
  • sharing texts, pictures, or videos with unintended audiences
  • spreading false and/or negative information
  • using the wide and rapid reach of online platforms as leverage to threaten and extort
An illustration of a frowning male with worried eyes, looking at a computer. On the computer screen is written the words 'Cyber Bullying', with many thought bubbles coming out from the computer. In the thought bubbles are written the words 'Attacking,' 'Intimidate,' 'Violence,' 'Discredit,' 'Harassment,' 'Abuse,' 'Humiliate,' 'Threat,' 'Anxiety,' and 'Disrespect.'

What Makes Cyberbullies So Darn Awful?

We all know what a bully is.  The cyberbully however, acts from a distance – virtually – and can even remain faceless.  Through social media and other digital platforms, cyberbullies repeatedly use comments, photos, posts and other content in a negative way to attack and manipulate the online reputation of their victim.  Listed below are some concerns unique to cyberbullying that work to overwhelm the target, making them feel powerless.

  1. It is hard to identify – Not only can the bully remain anonymous, but the harmful post may be presented in a way that makes it difficult to tell if it is an intentional attack or a case of simple misinterpretation.
  2. It is permanent – Unless reported and officially removed, most information electronically posted on a site is permanent and public. This can have far reaching and long-term consequences for everyone involved.
  3. It can go unnoticed – The attack can be posted on private accounts where teachers and parents may not necessarily have access. Young victims may also be reluctant to seek an adult’s help for fear of being ‘cut off’ from their internet privilege.
  4. It is persistent – The nature of technology allows the hurtful information to be seen, revisited, and of course felt long after the school day has finished. It can seem like relief from cyberbullying is nowhere in sight.

Where Does Cyberbullying Typically Occur?

Cyberbullying can occur anywhere that digital media allows communication to exist.  Social media, Apps, chat forums, online gaming, dating sites, and personal websites are all venues where victims can be targeted for cyber harassment.  Some common social media venues for cyberbullying include:

  • Line
  • LiveMe
  • MeetMe
  • Omegle
  • Reddit
  • Sarahah
  • Snapchat
  • Telegram
  • TikTok
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter
  • WeChat
  • WhatsApp
  • Whisper
  • Youtube
  • YUB

Protection and Online Security Measures

Protecting our youth from online bullying starts with parents.  Discussion about compassion, empathy, kindness, and respect is necessary.  Issues such as the relevance of an online reputation, life stage priorities, and role- or age-appropriate boundaries should be put under a spotlight.

Youth must understand the potential consequences of posting and oversharing on public websites.  Adults can reassure children that cyberbullying, although common, is totally unacceptable and that coming to them for help will not result in automatic punishment or a reduction of internet privileges.

Immediately After a Cyberbullying Incident

If targeted by a cyberbully, the very first thing to do is snap a picture of the screen for evidence.  Then take a step backwards; give the negative post lots of space by NOT ENGAGING with the aggressor.  No reactionary response can help diffuse the situation.

If the temptation to respond is too much, try physically separating yourself from the device containing the upsetting post.  Take at least 25 steps from your phone, your tablet, your console, or your computer.  Going outside will be most effective.  Now focus on breathing for one whole minute.  Once you have calmed down a bit, block or unfriend the individual.

Report the experience to a trusted adult.  At the very least, report the experience to a friend.  It is crucial that the victim gain some control over the matter, and simply sharing the situation with someone will work to empower and stimulate the next course of action.  Once reported to an adult, a decision to follow up with the bully, their parents, the school, or possibly even local law enforcement, can be made.

Online Security Basics

Take the following steps to protect yourself and your data, and reduce the risk of unwanted attention and cyberbullying.

  • Do not share your passwords with anyone but a parent or guardian.
  • Use a strong password.  Online password generators can help you.
  • Change your password often.
  • Password protect your cell phone.
  • Never post personal information on public sites.
  • Do not click on links from strangers.
  • Do not share personal information with strangers.
  • Use privacy settings to block unwanted messages.
  • Turn off the option to tag your locations.
  • ALWAYS THINK before posting.
A parody of a 'Facebook' poster, the title changed to 'Safebook'. The generic illustrated body of a male has been divided up by words, and a completing phrase hovers in the surrounding white space nearby. In the top left, the word YOU and a Facebook hand points to the man’s head. In his head is written 'Think' – Think Before You Post. In his shoulders is written 'Friends' – Only Connect With Friends. In his chest is written 'Kind' – Be Kind To Others. In his stomach is written 'Password' – Don't Share Your Password. In his thighs is written 'Privacy' – Keep Your Settings Private. In his calves is written 'Hurt' – Don't Be Hurtful Towards Others. There are three bubbles below. The first bubble is titled Parents and Teachers and reads: “join Facebook, understand how it works, teach safety and responsibility, and check privacy settings”. The second bubble is titled Friends and reads: “don't stay silent, do help friends, report the bully, tell parents, and tell the teacher”. The final bubble is titled The Bully and reads “don't respond, Do save what they say, unfriend them, block them, tell a friend, tell your parents, and report the person”.

A Closer Look: Cyberbullying in Online Gaming

Live voice and text chat have become common online gaming features.  This helps players to strategize with each other in real-time and strengthens team working skills in general.  But what happens if competition, jealousy, and disagreement get the better of someone?  A friend, for example.  Maybe a stranger.  Either way, online gaming can allow tempers to rise in an instant, hurtful or inappropriate words to be posted without hesitation, and fights to break out before one realizes.

Basic online gaming security starts with choosing a strong and appropriate screen name.  A screen name should not reveal any personal information, should use a mix of letters and numbers, and should never be offensive to anyone, any culture, or any religion.  Choosing a screen name that is totally different than one’s username is best.

As with any form of digital media, avoid talking to strangers, and do not give out any personal information while gaming – ever.  When using live voice features, children need to be cautious of what they are saying and who they are saying it to.  Even with privacy filters set to ‘friends only,’ it is difficult to know with certainty who is logged into your mate’s account.  The bottom line is to ALWAYS THINK before making a digital comment.

Finally, parents can provide a key role in online gaming safety by simply taking a half hour to play or watch the game with their child.  This can be a fun parent-child bonding experience that allows for elements of the game such as violence and horror to be discussed.  Parents also have the opportunity to assess potential for harassment or cyberbullying to take place.

Most games offer parental control options designed specifically to protect vulnerable players, and it is highly recommended they be explored.  Knowing a little about the game your child plays creates a more educated space for conversation to happen – both about the gameplay itself and the security options available.

The links below take you to YouTube videos that discuss parental controls on three of the more popular online games youth are currently playing.

Fortnight

How To Setup Parental Controls On Fortnite Chapter 2

Fortnite How To Protect Your Kids and Your Money| Parents Guide

Minecraft

A Parents’ Guide to Minecraft 1

Parent’s Guide To Minecraft 2

Roblox

Is Roblox Safe for Kids? – A Quick Parent’s Guide To Roblox – Game Playing and Creation Platform

How to keep kids safe on Roblox

A Final Word

Cyberbullies, like all bullies, will unfortunately always exist.  However, it is key to remember that there are far more good people who want to help and offer support than there are those who want to hurt.  While online, don’t invite trouble.  Be aware, do not overshare, and ALWAYS THINK BEFORE POSTING.

A Few Further Resources

About The Author

Shane Smith is a recent first-time parent with his superhero partner in Montreal, Canada.  His eclectic history has gifted him work in Japan, Nepal, UAE, Thailand, Cambodia, Argentina, Costa Rica, USA, and France.  Aside from an appreciation for cultural diversity, he loves traveling, camping, microbreweries, good eating, and catching up with friends.

With degrees in Biology (BSc) and Film Production (BFA), Shane identifies as a scientific mind who is innately driven by creativity.  This dichotomy led him to become a Director of Photography in film and television, documenting everything from birth to death, to Angkor Wat and Hugh Jackman.

Shane is currently in the final internship phase of a career change to become a Child Life Specialist.  Under the wing of CCLS Morgan Livingstone, Shane is elated to be providing community-based, developmentally-appropriate psychosocial support to children and families enduring health related hardships.

Shane Smith
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