Bullying is a problem that seeps into our children’s schools, our workplace, and social settings. Most individuals think of it as a problem plaguing only our children and teens, but adults face it as well. It is something that appears to be so pervasive in our culture, that one of our presidential nominees has been criticized for being a “bully” himself. What is the prevalence of this in our culture teaching young members of our community?
Previously we could quantify bullying in two different forms - emotional and physical bullying. Now, thanks to rapid technological advancement, there is cyberbullying. This occurs through smartphones, tablets, computers, and any other electronic portal that can transport someone to a public platform. Work e-mails laden with sarcasm and rude comments are keystrokes away. No consent is necessary to post two kids’ pictures with a “who’s prettier?” comment underneath on Facebook. Adults frequently make hateful remarks about others on Twitter because of age, sex, physical appearance, a disability, or religious preference.
This wave of devastating harm has created countless headlines over the years about those that were ruthlessly tormented. Children are feeling there is no reason for them to live any longer, contemplating dying by suicide; and adults are quitting jobs and moving to different towns. I have been doing some research on this topic the past two weeks and I found this 2013 article discussing the technological behind-the-scenes teams that are trying to moderate and eliminate cyberbullying. The most impactful statement during my reading was in this linked article: once confronted with the pain that the bullies were causing the online target, they were baffled that they could cause this person distress. They were taken aback by the human reaction that the victim was having to hateful threats and comments.
While cyberbullying can hide behind the mask of depersonalization, there is in-person bullying that makes the victim very real to the bullies. What is it about typing that creates individuals to remove their filters? The saying “think before you speak” is distorted when individuals that are focused on the instant gratification of typing out their stream of consciousness. In the above mentioned article it is suggested that algorithms detecting harsh words prompt typer’s with a “that sounds harsh, are you sure you want to post this?” This seems like a proactive and/or preventative anti-bullying initiatives, and I am grateful for the innovators that are putting forth efforts into all forms of anti-bullying as it is a dynamic, layered and pervasive global problem.
Mathematics are able to prompt accountability and slow impulse control down so that we realize streams of consciousness, though typed, could affect those on the receiving end. Initially my thought was ‘what is being left out of our conversations, interactions, and expectations that is not only perpetuating this devastating cycle, but fueling it?’ Later, while discussing this topic with Dr. Badwan we circled back to developmental appropriateness of impulse control skills and empathy depending upon age. It may not be that the conversations are not being had, or expectations set, but people are accessing means of communications and connection at so young of an age these skills have not been fully developed or refined. Or it could be the combination. Regardless of the “why” I am curious about the “how” in how we slow it down, and reduce the harmful effects cyberbullying is having on individuals receiving the brunt of it.
Thanks to Dr. Hancock, here is a site that supports parents in keeping kids safe with the internet, tech choices, and offers psychoeducation about the digital culture we find ourselves in. It also offers interactive-educational tools for children and providers, so that we can all utilize the “positive resources for parents, educators and policymakers who teach youths how to use new media devices and platforms in safe and healthy ways.” Prevention starts with education about how layered this problem can be, talking regularly about the online issues, and setting appropriate boundaries. If you or your child have been the target of cyberbullying, seek support from a professional to work through the pain it causes, especially if emotional or behavioral changes are noticed. This website is a resource for documenting and reporting the cyberbullying so that it may be addressed appropriately. As always, if there are additional resources that people have found helpful in navigating such a difficult experience, please pass it along to email@example.com so that it can be shared with the rest of our Birch community.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology