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Why Are Teens Cyberbullying?

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Lori Getz: Even with recent cyberbullying-related suicides receiving national attention, teens continue to use the Internet to harass, embarrass and even make threats against peers!

Teenage girl using laptop
Why is cyberbullying now ubiquitous in the lives of teens? I sat down with more than 100 seventh graders to talk about it. Here's what they said:

• "It's anonymous; you can say what you want."

• "You don't have to look the person in the face to see how they might react."

• "Anyone can be a bully online ... you can even bully the cool kids."

• "You probably won't get caught."

All of these points resonated with me, but the last one stuck out like a sore thumb! Kids don't believe their online behavior matters. It's because there is a lack of supervision that they feel they can get away with it. I asked them about "parental interference" and what would make a difference in curbing cyberbullying behavior. The answer was unanimous: If the cyberbullies thought that their parents, teachers or possibly law enforcement would find out what they were doing, they would stop!

We constantly remind our kids to chew with their mouths closed, take their elbows off the table, be respectful of others and look both ways before they cross the street. These issues are easy to parent because in the middle of dinner, as you see the etiquette-crime being committed, you can gently remind them of the offense and correct the behavior. It is much more difficult to teach online manners because they happen without us being in the moment. But manners -- both online and offline -- begin at home. 

We need to find ways to talk to our kids about their behavior, and explain to them that it DOES matter. We also need to remind them of the fact that we are NOT out-of-touch parents, and that we do understand a thing or two about what they're doing online (even if we have to fake it).

Kids need to stop thinking of the Internet as the Wild, Wild West, where there are no rules or consequences for their actions. Online, there are both.

next: Why Do I Apologize for Being a Stay-At-Home Mom?
17 comments so far | Post a comment now
Stanley April 21, 2010, 10:26 AM

Seems to me that the kids know what they are doing is wrong but are telling us that they will continue to do it as long as they feel they won’t get caught. So what you need is something that let’s them know they are being watched and that what they post and say through IM is being recorded. Then you need real consequences, so, no Internet for a month on the first incident, depending on severity, and grounding for a month with no media of any kind on the second. Parental control software is the solution: it provides the kids knowledge that what they say online will be seen by authority figures, it provides the reporting parents need so they won’t have to “fake it” as the author recommends, and it even provides real, working mechanisms to enforce punishments such as lost or reduced Internet access.

Great research btw.

KenS April 21, 2010, 11:10 AM

I agree with Stanley… but how are you supposed to know for sure what your child is doing?

Okay, plug out of the way, the bottom line here is that parents are in fact the key. Parents need to get involved in helping solve the cyberbullying problem. If parents cared enough about their child being the bully or passing along the material as much as they care when their child is a victim, it would be a huge step forward. I feel that every parent should want to PROVE to at the very least themselves that their child is better than bullying and would not treat others that way (either by starting it or passing it along and enabling)… We have to bring much more accountability to the bully and their parents.

All the laws and “education” in the world won’t stop it; but parents being involved and knowing how their child is behaving/treating other online will…

Of course, that is under the assumption that the parents arent bullies…

vtmama April 21, 2010, 1:49 PM

Teens aren’t the only people using mean and thoughtless language online. Just yesterday, this website ran a piece calling unschooling the “ultimate in lazy parenting.” Having a discussion about unschooling is completely legitimate, but why is it necessary to use that kind of derogatory language?

Perhaps because “It’s anonymous; you can say what you want.” or “You don’t have to look the person in the face to see how they might react.”

How can we expect kids to behave on the internet when adults can’t seem to do it?

Darla Siereveld April 21, 2010, 5:58 PM

I dont know what is wrong with kids anymore, but I know that being a bully goes way back. It is sad, but I think that those who bully others are not happy with themselves. It is a high for them to make someone else feel bad , It must make the bully feel better to know that they have hurt someone else.
I had a bully in high school, I would just play along with her and she would leave me alone.
But this does need to stop as I think kids are worse these days,kids that have a bully should report it not kill them self over someone that is just jealous of them.

J April 21, 2010, 9:24 PM

vtmama I agree with you about the adults. There are many times that during a discussion or debate they will get mean and if you say something they don’t agree with it can get nasty. I said something about legalizing marriage for same sex couples and someone told me I needed to lose my freedom of speech and just shut up. And this person was 15 years my senior! Parents not only need to watch their kids more but they need to watch their own behavior.

Meheen April 21, 2010, 10:53 PM

I don’t think the problem is that more kids are involved with bullying, but more that our connectivity allows us to see every incident that occurs and thus is widely reported. Bullying happens. Children feel powerful behind anonymity, but so do adults.

Booney April 26, 2010, 9:30 AM

i think if you have somthing to say about some one you should tell them to their face not behind their back.

WebMom May 17, 2010, 11:25 AM

There are so many positive aspects to having our children use online content. They can do research, connect with family and friends, etc. Unfortunately, they are also exposed to the dark side and it can have terrible consequences.

Monitoring your child’s activities with software has been mentioned in a previous comment. That can help, but what about when your kid uses the Internet at school, the library or a friend’s home? Even a cautious, caring parent can miss things. :(

I work for a company that I’m proud of and would recommend to anyone with concerns about their child’s online safety. doesn’t require a download and they monitor all your child’s online activity. I don’t mean to sound like an ad, I’m a real mom with a teen and a tween. I just thought I would share. The site has a huge amount of free resources to help parents become informed about kids online safety. Cyberbullying is one of our main concerns.

Marietta Hetland March 5, 2011, 5:59 PM

There are some interesting cut-off dates in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There’s some validity but I’ll take maintain opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

Rudolf Vafiadis March 6, 2011, 12:04 PM

Wow, great post Thanks for sharing !

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