Breaking Down Bullying, Part III: Cyber Bullying

Steven Kairys, M.D., MPH Chairman of Pediatrics Jersey Shore University Medical Center K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital

In this third and final piece of a special three-part series for Meridian Momtourage, Steven Kairys, M.D., MPH, Chairman of Pediatrics, Jersey Shore University Medical Center, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital, discusses cyber bullying as well as behaviors, challenges and strategies unique to internet/social media-based bullying.

Cyber bullying is a special form of bullying that involves willful, repeated harm through the use of technological devices. Repeated harm is especially likely in cyber bullying— and probably more harmful than traditional bullying in many ways — because it can be so invasive and witnessed by so many other people linked to other sites.

Cyber bullying is particularly destructive and more likely to go unnoticed by adults and school officials. Unlike regular bullying, the victim feels particularly helpless, alone and singled out. Teens in particular are very impulsive, and such major intrusions into their sense of security and safety can lead to dramatic and self-injurious actions.

Schools must adopt very visible and clear policies about cyber bullying; policies should spell out how investigations will be conducted, when police will get involved, and how such bullies will be disciplined.

Education, awareness and an open communication approach by schools is also critical. As with bullying and even more important with cyber bullying, the bystanders of cyber bullying need to understand the background, the consequences and the proactive types of roles that they can play to defuse the issue and prevent further episodes. At home, parents need to also be aware of the potential for cyber bullying and the potential for their child being a victim. 

Parents should teach online security measures, including:

  • Do not give out personal information online.
  • Do not share passwords.
  • Do not join in or gossip when witnessing cyber bullying. 

Parents should keep computers in a public place — teens do not have a right to have a computer in their room — or use tools to monitor what happens on the computer. Many Internet providers have tools to support online supervision. Remember to keep communication open, supportive, and non-judgmental.

If your child is a victim of cyber bullying:

  • Teach them not to respond.
  • Save the evidence.
  • Seek help from the school and the police, especially if there are direct threats to the child. 
  • Work with the Internet company to remove the content and block further emails.

As with other forms of bullying, children need to know that they are not at fault for being a victim, and that there are coping strategies that can ameliorate the situation and prevent further episodes.

More on bullying from Steven Kairys, M.D., MPH, Chairman of Pediatrics, Jersey Shore University Medical Center and K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital:

Breaking Down Bullying, Part l: Overview

Breaking Down Bullying, Part II: The Bully