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School Bullies: From the Playground to the Computer

The Internet takes bullying to a whole new level.

Key points

  • Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying.
  • Victims of cyberbullying may suffer more prolonged physical and psychological harm.
  • The majority of students do not report that they are victims of cyberbullying to people with authority to help.
  • Schoolyards serve as training grounds for students to develop conflict resolution skills.
Keira Burton/Pexels
Source: Keira Burton/Pexels

The same bullies who intimidate classmates on the playground are typically the same bullies who terrorize fellow students on the Internet.

Traditional bullying consists of repeated face-to-face contact using physical abuse or verbal taunts with the intent to harm or intimidate others and is characterized by the inability of the victim to stop the mistreatment.

Cyberbullying typically takes place on social networks to harass victims. It takes the form of text messages, e-mails, and pictures dedicated to disparaging victims.

Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying in that words on the playground evaporate beyond earshot, but words and pictures cannot be deleted from the Internet. Disparaging remarks scrawled in the bathroom disappear under a fresh coat of paint, but they remain permanently imprinted on the Internet. Traditionally, rumors dissipate over time and are long forgotten; however, in the virtual world, they perpetually thrive.

Victims of cyberbullying may suffer more prolonged physical and psychological harm because electronic bullying extends beyond the boundaries of the school campus, and, in some cases, cyberbullies remain anonymous tormentors.

Students would think twice before making untoward comments in a room crowded with their friends but would readily push the “post” button without thinking about the consequences because they were alone in front of their keyboards. The unintended consequences of posting to social networks can be devastating. Posts to social networks are permanent even if the post has been deleted. Posts can be replicated and altered; they can also be viewed by people outside a closed circle of friends, notwithstanding privacy settings.

Students may lose the expectation of privacy if trusted friends re-post material initially intended to be private. Students may also unwittingly lose the expectation of privacy when they accept unvetted friends. These unvetted friends, either through ignorance or intent, may share private information with unintended people.

Victims of cyberattacks are more likely to seek revenge for cyberbullying attacks using their home computers rather than risking face-to-face confrontations. In these instances, the students are both the victim and the aggressor of cyberbullying. The majority of students do not report that they are victims of cyberbullying to people who have the authority to intervene to stop the attacks. The victims must take some responsibility to stop their tormentors.

In many instances, school administrators and police officials only become aware of severe cyberbullying attacks after physical violence or when the victims of cyberbullying incur psychological trauma or, in rare cases, take their own lives to escape the sustained attacks or public humiliation. School administrators and police officials cannot be held responsible for not stopping cyberbullying if the victims do not report the attacks.

Inevitably, students will encounter disagreements with fellow students for myriad reasons. Before the advent of social media, these disputes typically ran their course in the school arena without administrative or legal intervention. The Internet adds a new dimension to schoolyard intrigues in that they can now be recorded and distributed to a wider audience.

Other students are more likely to pile on because they do not have to engage in a face-to-face confrontation, which is more intimidating than anonymously pressing the “send” button. Piling on adds fuel to a fire that may have otherwise burned itself out following a face-to-face confrontation. Intervening in every schoolyard dispute is not practical.

Police officers and school administrators face the dilemma of when to intervene and when to let the disputes run their natural course. Schoolyards serve as training grounds for developing conflict resolution skills. Mastering conflict resolution skills takes practice. If students do not master these skills, they will be ill-prepared to face a working world replete with adult bullies.

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