By Sheri Watkins
According to Microsoft’s recent worldwide online bullying survey, girls are more likely to be bullied online: 55% vs. 24% of boys. Also, those who bully online are twice as likely to be victims of cyberbullying themselves.
These statistics may surprise you, but cyberbullying seems to be more prevalent among girls; both as the victims AND possibly as the bullies. Why are girls so much more likely to be involved in cyberbullying? It may be because it is easier with the false sense of distance and anonymity of the digital world, especially since girls seem so much more covert about bullying. Socially isolating a peer seems to be the most common way girls bully; a perfect storm for social networking! Perhaps it’s the drama factor, but peer pressure seems to be an important factor also. We’ve all seen Mean Girls.
Someone who is normally a “good kid” and would never be a part of harassing others in “real life” can feel pressure to participate in commenting, liking and sharing cruelty online. They may feel that pressure because there is a digital archive in the form of the message chain that shows who has – and who has not yet—contributed to the discussion. Again, that feeling of distance and lack of immediate consequences from being behind a screen make it easier to participate.
Prevention is Key
Experts and educators agree, social and emotional learning is an important key to preventing cyberbullying. Rules and punishment can deter, but won’t create true change. One way to get a jump on prevention is to start early. Talking with younger tweens and giving them a chance to practice good social skills and resolving problems without resorting to cruelty can go a long way.
According to the same Microsoft survey, only 29% of kids ages 8-17, say their parents have talked to them about protecting themselves online. “What’s more, according to the results, there is not one common step taken by parents to address the problem, with only 17% having communicated a clear set of rules for negative online behaviors.”
Upstander or Bystander?
Tweens who are coached, encouraged, and given chances to practice empathy and putting oneself in another’s shoes, are more likely to take a stand against bullying as an upstander. Our kids are tech-savvy, but how can we help them to become socially savvy enough and emotionally mature enough to be upstanders? Upstanders are leaders, and leaders need development. An upstander knows that responding to or retaliating against cyberbullying usually makes the problem worse. Not feeding into the drama can stop the cycle. And as an upstander, a tween who is the target or witness to cyberbullying should always save the evidence and report it to a trusted adult.
An upstander is also aware of and able to recognize his/her own role in escalating or defusing online cruelty. Tweens who participate in the “drama” through spreading rumors, posting mean comments, and sharing secrets via messaging are escalating what is already fertile ground for drama in social networks. Kids can demonstrate upstanding behavior that calms the drama. Something as simple as sending an encouraging message/post to a victim without calling-out or insulting the bully.
Be objective when it comes to your own child. Establish strict rules & consequences for bullying behavior and stick to them. Becoming an upstander requires coaching. A good coach always monitors activity and progress. That’s why parents should monitor tweens use of computers, mobile devices and social media participation. Examine what they’re posting, check their mobile messages, and make sure they know you’re keeping an eye on their digital activities. Though they may protest, this can give tweens a sense of security until they are empowered enough to prevent cyberbullying for themselves.
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This post was contributed by Hay There Social Media Team member Sheri Watkins.