Common Sense Media: Bullying Is Everybody's Business

(Photo: iStock)

Liz Perle, Common Sense Media
Wed Oct 10, 2:22 PM UTC

Cyberbullying Is a Complex System With the statistics piling up, it has become increasingly clear that the cruelties inflicted by cyberbullying have become a devastating reality for the majority of tweens and teens.

While bullying is nothing new, when it takes place in the digital world, it's like public humiliation on steroids. Photos, cruel comments, taunts, and threats travel in an instant and can be seen, revisited, reposted, linked to, and shared by a huge audience.

Until recently, parents, teachers, and news accounts have focused on the relationship between the bully and his or her target. But experts say that there are usually more kids involved in a cyberbullying scenario, making it a much more complex organism than previously thought. In fact, one of the side effects of how public bullying has become is that potentially everyone in the bully's circle of friends -- both online and off-line -- may be involved.

Studies show that kids' relationships in the real world are mirrored online. When drama brews or aggressive behavior erupts among a group of friends, it passes seamlessly from the lunchroom to the chat room. Everyone in the social circle knows about it and participates in various ways to varying degrees on the social network.

The Four Cyberbullying Roles

Identifying the different roles in a cyberbullying situation can help you to help your kid develop self-awareness and a sense of empathy. These skills will go a long way toward cultivating an online culture of respect and responsibility.

First, there's the cyberbully, the aggressor who's using digital media tools (such as the Internet and cell phone) to deliberately upset or harass their target -- the person who's being cyberbullied. Then there are the bystanders, the kids who are aware that something cruel is going on but who stay on the sidelines (either out of indifference or because they're afraid of being socially isolated or of becoming a target themselves). But there are also kids who act as upstanders. These are the kids who actively try to break the cycle, whether by sticking up for the target, addressing the bully directly, or notifying the appropriate authorities about what's going on.

How to Help Your Kid Kids may play different roles at different times. Your advice to your child will differ depending on the situation and the specific role your child is playing in whatever bullying or drama is going on.

By making kids aware that a safe world is everyone's responsibility, we empower them to take positive actions -- like reporting a bully, flagging a cruel online comment, or not forwarding a humiliating photo -- that ultimately can put a stop to an escalating episode of cruelty.