After moving back home, I started spending more time with my 16-year-old brother. We’re eight years apart, so communicating in the past was tough. But, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve grown closer, becoming more like friends than competitive siblings.
My brother is very active, but I’ve also noticed him spending a lot of time on his Xbox. In the wee hours of the morning, I hear him challenging his friends on his headset. As an occasional (maybe rare) gamer, I’m familiar with the profanities spoken via the headsets. Children as young as seven are cussing about anything and everything, in order to insult their competitor’s abilities.
My brother, being the easygoing fellow that he is, rarely feeds into this nonsense. But for many teens, overlooking threats is not so easy.
Cyber-bullying can take many forms, such as via the Xbox headset, but it’s more common via texting or through social networking sites. Formally defined, it is “the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person.”
In an earlier post, I discuss how texting can improve shy individuals’ social skills. When behind a screen, people are more comfortable with sharing information. When the pressure of face-to-face interaction is lifted, we feel empowered. More confident. Bold.
This is what occurs for cyber-bullies, especially when anonymity is involved. Cyber-bullying has especially become a problem because of its free range for teens. Without parent supervision, teens can type and post anything. When teens exchange aggressive texts or emails, or post hostile material on social media, the content can be shared with hundreds of people.
Simply put: cyber-bullying can be humiliating for the victim.
And, in most cases, parents don’t know it’s happening.
A well-known case involves 13-year-old Megan Meier, who committed suicide after being cyber-bullied. Megan, who struggled with her weight and depression, had problems with her friends at school. When a 16-year-old boy, Josh Evans, friend requested Megan on MySpace, she was flattered. After growing close with Josh, via MySpace, he suddenly became cruel, accusing her of being a “bad friend” and insulting Megan. A few weeks before her birthday, Megan committed suicide.
Megan’s parents knew her MySpace password and kept a watchful eye on her interactions with Josh. The suicide followed one interaction when Megan’s parents weren’t home, despite them demanding that she log off the site.
After her death, the Meier family found that Josh never existed. He was a fake profile created by a neighboring girl who Megan lost touch with. The girl’s parents helped operate the profile.
Unfortunately, tragedies like Megan’s story have become all too common. With one in three kids cyber-bullied, particularly through the ages of nine to 14, it’s become an ordinary dilemma for adolescents.
There is no foolproof way to prevent cyber-bullying, but there are ways for parents to monitor their teen. PBS.org suggests that if the bullying occurs, have the teen stop responding and block the bully immediately, whether via social network or cell phone. If the bullying persists, change the teen’s contact information. Throughout the harassment, keep a record of the texts and/or emails, in case matters escalate.
When cyber-bullying occurs, there’s no guarantee that a child will speak up. Most often, teens keep the bullying to themselves, due to embarrassment coincided with parent involvement. The best assets are watchful eyes and receptive ears to a child’s behaviors and habits.