Cyberbullying 101: What it is and what it isn’t

Have you and your child or teen talked about cyber-bullying?  That’s when someone uses the internet or social media to bully someone with words or images.

What if you learned that not everything online that offends your child or teen is considered cyberbullying?  Here now is a look at the differences, why that’s important and how to talk with your family about it. 

"It’s always been very painful. It’s always been very troubling. I think one of the differences now is that we’ve added the element of technology," educator, social worker and author Signe Whitson via Facetime. 

She added that people shouldn’t lump all types of negativity your child might experience into the "cyberbully" bucket.

"We’re putting all of childhood misbehaviors into the bullying basket, and my concern is that when we do that we’re going to create a little bit of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ phenomena," Whitson said, adding that this could draw the much-needed attention away from true bullying itself.

The recommended three categories include the following:

Rude — inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.

"Rudeness among young people usually looks a lot like jumping in front of someone in line, because they’re young person and they’re dying to go first," Whitson said.

Mean — purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone.

"It’s because kids are angry with each other. So, they’ll say something like, ‘You’re not my best friend anymore’ or ‘you suck at soccer.’ You know, they figure out what’s really important to the child and then they sort of, in anger, take it away," Whitson. 

Bullying: intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.

"Bullying has a relentless quality to it that rudeness and meanness don’t have. The child is cruel and they do it over and over and over again," Whitson added.

That’s when Whitson says it’s important for kids – and even teens – to realize an adult needs to get involved. However, we can provide children and teens the tools they need to respond to rudeness or meanness. For example, instructing them to stand up to the person and explain politely that it’s not okay to talk or act that way towards them.

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