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How Do You Deal With the Changing Face of Bullies?
by Mel March 14th 2010, 11:35 AM

Article featured in Avatar - Volume 3, Issue 6 (December 2009).

How Do You Deal With the Changing Face of Bullies?
by Sian Morgan

This year, National Anti-Bullying week shines a spotlight on the fastest growing face of bullying: cyberbullying. Basically, this means using information and communication technology to deliberately upset someone else. It includes bullying via mobile phones, instant messaging, emails, blogs, Twitter, websites, chatrooms, message boards, Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Second Life, or social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo.

Cyberbullying can include threats and blackmail, harassment, repeatedly texting, unpleasant messages/images, monitoring or hacking into someone’s online activities or accounts, impersonating a person and using their identity online, posting or forwarding unpleasant comments or private information, sharing videos of someone being bullied, sending viruses, pretending to be friends to gain information, refusing to acknowledge messages or using 'ignore' functions, manipulating someone emotionally to do something: ‘If you were really my friend, you’d…’, and ‘sexting’ (sending sexually explicit messages or photos to cause distress).

The difficulty most children and parents face with cyber bullying is that it is more difficult to contain and control. Information can spread rapidly, repeatedly and widely – whether it was intentionally hurtful in the first place or not – and it can creep into a child’s personal space no matter where they are. Those who bully can choose to remain anonymous and they don’t necessarily need to be physically more powerful to bully anymore. Anonymity can also mean that boundaries could be pushed even further than if someone is physically in your face.

So how can you help, especially if you feel like children know more about technology than you do?

When online, help children make themselves more cyberbully-proof by encouraging them not to combine real names, ages and provocative words as their username/email address. Sexybecs13@whatever.com may seem a fun idea to 13 year old Becs who is just getting into boys and having fun experimenting with harmless flirting etc – but it gives away a surprising amount of detail to anyone looking hard enough who might not be so harmless.

You might want to use a picture or image on a profile instead of a real photo. Keep passwords private and make them hard to guess by using random letters and numbers instead of names, phone numbers and birthdays etc. This makes it difficult for people to hack into email accounts.

The web is a very deceptive space. It can feel very private and intimate, but it’s very public. You may need to discuss that the details they display, who they talk to and what they talk about are far more open and accessible than they might realize.

We insist that children tell us the truth about things and we drill them that they are rude if they don’t answer questions or speak to people when spoken to - but they need to know that the web is the one place where it’s okay not to answer people, to block and delete people and not to give out details like real names, personal information, phone numbers and addresses. They also need to know that other people don’t always tell the truth on their profiles and in conversations either. If bullied, instant messaging services such as MSN have features that allow you to block or delete people, but children may need encouragement that it’s okay to block people. On MySpace and Bebo, profiles can be set to ‘private’ so that only approved people can see it. On email accounts such as Hotmail, you can block email addresses by clicking on ‘options’, then ‘more options’. Click the heading ‘junk mail’ then click ‘safe and blocked senders’. Finally, click the ‘blocked senders’ option and type the offending email address into the box and click ‘add to the list’. Be as interested and open to talking about online friends and what a child does online as you would face-to-face friends and activities.

Children need to know that it’s better to tell you about something that’s happened online – as soon as possible - even if they’ve joined in bullying themselves or got themselves into an embarrassing situation. Save messages if you need to take further action about them.

When using mobile phones, you can remind children to be careful who they give their phone number to, but in all fairness most give out their phone numbers in good faith to people they think are friends. The problem is that they have little control over whether those people remain friends or if their number is passed on to others without their consent.

If you do find that nuisance calls or texts are a problem, you can report this to your mobile phone provider. Newer phones may have reject lists where you can block a number but generally the only thing a phone company will be able to do is offer to change your number and liaise with the police on the matter.

This information was taken from ‘Bullying: A Guide for Parents’ written by author and psychologist Sian Morgan. It is available to download or order at www.stopthespiral.com where you can also find more free information about bullying. Sian is currently designing a resource for children to help rebuild their confidence when they’ve been bullied. If you have children who have been bullied and they’d like to tell Sian what they’d like to see her include in this resource, she would love to hear from them at www.stopthespiral.com.

Last edited by Mel; April 5th 2010 at 08:24 AM.
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