500 meet for cyberbully conference

Nov 15, 2010, 2:18 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

Were you ever seriously beaten up in school, or continually picked on as a kid? If you were, you probably think you can relate to what kids go through in school today with cyberbullying.

cyberbullying I often speak to parents about kids and technology. Each time I run into a few adults who sincerely ask, “What’s the big deal with cyberbullying? I was bullied as a kid and I’m fine today. Shouldn’t we be teaching kids toughen up?”

With that comment in mind, I’m focusing on the differences between what some of us experienced as kids and the bullying made possible today through technology – online, texting, social media – cyberbullying.

That is also the subject of a conference that’s bringing 500 educators, researchers and law enforcement personnel to Seattle this week.

What is cyberbullying? The National Crime Prevention Council’s definition is “when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” StopCyberbullying.org, an expert organization dedicated to Internet safety, security and privacy, defines cyberbullying as: “a situation when a child, tween or teen is repeatedly ‘tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted’ by another child or teenager using text messaging, email, instant messaging or any other type of digital technology.”

Think about your school days for a minute. Mike Donlin is a Seattle educator who’s taught about the warning signs and long term effects of both bullying and cyberbullying. He says if you were intimated, harassed or beaten up, chances are you still have a clear memory of that today.

“People will tell you exactly the time, the day, what they were wearing when it happened to them,” Donlin says. “It has total life-long impact on people.”

And that impact isn’t just on the people who were bullied.

“We know from tracking it also has an impact on the kids who were perpetrators, who were bullying, and it has really negative impacts on their lives overall.

There haven’t been studies to figure out the long-term impacts of cyberbullying. We won’t have scientific research on the subject until some of the kids who are dealing with it today become adults.

“The impacts and implications of this cyberbullying stuff – the speed at which it happens, the numbers of people involved, the fact that the targeted kid can’t get away because there’s no safe place for him or her to go – all those things magnify the bullying,” says Donlin.

One other thing that might make cyberbullying more dangerous than the old kind of bullying some of us dealt with is that what happens online lasts forever.

Donlin says even the smart kids he talks to about technology don’t really embrace that.

“I say this to kids, ‘Everything you post is public,’ and they say ‘no, no, no, not true I have my Facebook settings on private,'” Donlin says. But there are always ways around privacy settings. And even if students send a message to someone else they think is private, how can they guarantee the messages won’t be forwarded or posted in a very public way?

A second difference between cyberbullying and, for lack of a better word “traditional” bullying, is that it’s “virtually invisible to adults,” he says.

If a student got a bloody nose in a fight back in the day, a teacher could see that and know there’s some problem. That’s not the case with cyberbullying, where the harassment or intimidation comes directly to the child through a text, or email or as a Facebook posts. Many adults aren’t even aware of what their kids are doing online. And the young person’s instinct is to delete the comments or posts to try to “make them go away.”

“You see the nasty picture you get the nasty email and your instinct is to dump it,” says Donlin. “Don’t do that. Take a screen shot; save a link. You need to tell someone about this kind of harassment and have some evidence.”

The third thing that makes cyberbullying different from bullying is the people who are doing it most often. While bullies back in your school days were probably guys, that’s not the case today.

Pew research from August shows girls are nearly 50 percent more likely to engage in cyberbullying than boys. One third of all teens online have been cyberbullied.

While the focus of this article is cyberbullying of kids, adults are often victims of cyber abuse also. Here’s advice for adults.

And there’s a longer (16 minute) discussion of online safety on my new weekly podcast, found here, on MyNorthwest.com

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500 meet for cyberbully conference