Back-to-school season evokes the sheen of pristine white sneakers and squeaky clean lockers. But for many students, back to school also means back to bullying.
In this video from parenting website Kids in the House, children discuss the harrowing bullying they’ve experienced, and the extremely negative feelings that followed. The video was posted last year and has since garnered a million views on YouTube.
“It made me feel just like they said, that I was worthless, I had no reason to live,” one child says about her bullying experience. She later adds, “I just tried to keep deleting her, deleting her. And I even blocked her a few times, and she just kept making accounts.”
Cyberbullying is a growing problem as more kids get their hands on cellphones, constant Internet access and other avenues that make it easy to spread hurtful rumors.
About 1 in 5 students ages 12 to 18 nationwide said they were bullied at school in the 2012-13 school year, and 6.9% said they were cyberbullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Jarring as it may be, the NCES data might not show the full reach of cyberbullying because researchers relied on surveying kids by phone or in person. Children might be less likely to admit to being cyberbullied in front of their parents, for fear of their parents restricting phone and online access, said Brendesha Tynes, a University of Southern California associate professor of education and psychology.
According to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, “88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people be mean or cruel on social network sites,” and 15% said they had been cyberbullying targets.
A video like this one is useful because it shows children the psychological consequences of their actions, Tynes said. The video could go further, though, to empower kids to combat bullying by using specific tools. Here are the three things she suggests parents talk about with their children to prevent bullying:
1. Report it. If bullying is happening at school, kids should report it to a teacher or administrator. If bullying occurs online, many websites and apps have venues through which teens can report inappropriate content.
2. Three words: “That’s not cool.” Children can be defenders for and advocates of one another. If the bully is a friend, talk to that person about how his or her words affect the other person.
3. Don’t laugh. Even wordless affirmations of negative behavior can encourage a bully, Tynes said. “Those types of behaviors ... could give the bully the idea that it’s funny. They’re getting a reward.” Bullying isn’t funny, and a child doesn’t need to be an active bully to perpetuate the problem.
To help ensure your child is neither a victim nor a perpetrator online, parents can set Internet boundaries while involving kids in the decision-making process in a way that both makes the kids feel in control and allows parents to keep an eye on their day-to-day interactions, Tynes said.
“I would negotiate acceptable use and monitoring policies with your child,” Tynes said. “If you say, ‘Well I’d like to be your friend online,’ and maybe the child will say, ‘Ok well you can be my friend but you cannot post anything on my page.’”
Of course, it’s impossible for parents to see everything that kids do and say. That’s why it’s important for children to see videos like this one, and to understand their role in their peers’ well-being. The video ends with the message: “Empower kids to #Endbullying.”
Reach Sonali Kohli on Twitter @sonali_kohli or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org