Cyberbullying can be more insidious than physical bullying because it follows kids home. With around-the-clock access to the virtual environment, it’s hard for students to escape this kind of harassment. Educators and parents should also be aware that online bullies are significantly more likely to target girls than boys. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, 38.7% of adolescent girls have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes, compared to 34.5% of boys.
When looking specifically at teens aged 13–17, a Pew Research Center survey found that an overwhelming majority of the teens surveyed (90%) said they believe online harassment is a problem that affects people their age, while 63% said it is a major problem. The survey also found that 60% of girls and 59% of boys ages 13–17 had experienced at least one of six abusive online behaviors: offensive name-calling, spreading of false rumors, receiving unwanted explicit images, constant questions about what they’re doing or where they are, physical threats, or having explicit images of them shared without their consent.
While the overall figures were fairly similar for girls and boys, some forms of cyberbullying—such as spreading false rumors and receiving unwanted explicit images—seem to be more prevalent when it comes to girls. While 26% of teen boys surveyed said that someone has spread false rumors about them online, this figure shot up to 39% for teen girls. When it comes to receiving explicit images they hadn’t asked for, 29% of teen girls had experienced this type of abusive behavior, compared to 20% of teen boys. For teen girls ages 15–17, the figure is even higher, with 35% experiencing this behavior.
The Ohio-based nonprofit Ruling Our Experiences released a report called The Girls’ Index, based on a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 girls in grades 5–12. The most sobering takeaway for parents and teachers of girls was this: “Girls who spend the most time using technology are five times more likely to say they are sad or depressed nearly every day.” When it comes to social media, 31% of girls surveyed said they had been bullied on social media, while 19% admitted to bullying others.
The researchers also found that technology—supposedly created to connect people—can end up isolating them. They found that the girls who engaged with technology the most were also the least likely to be involved in activities such as clubs, sports, band, music, and theater. It’s important to note here that “technology” includes much more than social media. Cyberbullying can happen via email, through school technology, and even through file-sharing.
As a consequence of relentlessly feeling attacked online and isolated offline, about 20% of students who have been bullied report suicidal thoughts, according to Cyberbullying.org. This percentage is similar to the rate of suicidal ideation among the general population of adolescents (16%) but much higher than that of students who had never dealt with bullying (4%).
Your school or district can be prepared for cyberbullying if the right practices and policies are in place. Here are some exercises that can help you prevent, manage, and even respond to instances of cyberbullying:
- Be Aware: Staying attentive and monitoring cyberbullying is important to the management of online student safety. The way that students react to cyberbullying often mimics negative behaviors that students receive discipline for. By staying on the lookout for signs of cyberbullying and recognizing any sudden changes in students’ behaviors, you can catch cyberbullying situations before they become a larger problem.
- Be Perceptive: Thanks to technology, one advantage you have is that you can track and record incidents of cyberbullying. Be sure to archive and, if possible, review all school-provided means of student communication. This helps protect students who aren’t ready to speak up about being bullied online.
- Be Understanding: Handling cyberbullying not only involves prevention and detection but also your reaction to instances of cyberbullying. It is important to investigate and consider as much context as possible when reflecting on a cyberbullying situation. Consider why the victim was targeted and the benefits of possible solutions. Also, consider why the bully decided to act out in the first place. Inappropriate behavior is often an outgrowth of poor choices, poor conditions, and lack of resources.
At a time when digital communication tools are so frequently used by students for both learning and staying connected with one another, it’s important that these digital spaces are kept positive and safe.
Originally posted on April 27, 2018. Content has been updated to reflect new data.