Digital communications have revolutionised our social relationships. Text messaging, email and social network communities mean that today’s young person has instant access to friends and acquaintances across the globe. Unfortunately, like all innovative technologies, some young people choose to abuse the power of digital communications. A new brand of bullying has emerged and is wreaking havoc on the lives of its victims.

Cyber-bulling presents special challenges. To start, it’s difficult for the target to retreat from it because digital communications enable the cyber-bully to access the target at any time and in any location. Home is not a refuge for the cyber-target and the relentless nature of some cyber-bullying has serious consequences on their mental and physical health. Moreover, the option of anonymity in digital communications makes cyber-bullies bolder in their attacks.

Some common cyber-bully strategies include:

  • Offensive text and email messages sent to the target continuously throughout the night and on weekends.
  • Using their mobile phone to take photos/video of the target in a compromising situation and forwarding it to others or posting it on the internet.
  • Using the target’s phone or email account to send embarrassing or offensive text/emails to others and so disrupting the target’s friendships and isolating them socially.
  • Disclosing the target’s personal information (or making it up) on social networking sites to cause embarrassment.

The Players

The Target

Is the person at whom the bullying is directed. They may be socially vulnerable, belong to a minority group or be the subject of envy because of a particular talent or privilege. For some targets, there is no obvious reason why they have been selected by the bully. The experience of bullying can have a profound impact, causing depression, anxiety, decline in academic performance, and in extreme cases, self-harm and suicide.

The Bully

Is the person or group who directs the bullying. Generally, bullies suffer from a poor self-esteem, have a low tolerance for diversity, and are emotionally immature. Bullies often feel inadequate and insecure in their personal relationships. They are often the targets of abuse from older siblings or abusive parent figures. The experience of power acquired through dominating the target compensates the bully for feeling powerless in other aspects of their life. Bullies are often unaware of the impact of their actions – they may brush it off as just a bit of fun or even see the target as somehow deserving of their meanness.

The Bystander

Is any person who witnesses or knows of the bullying but is not directly involved. They may be a friend to the target, to the bully, or a neutral observer. Bystanders can make the bullying worse by providing an audience, adding to the bully’s sense of power. They can also be drawn into active participation by forwarding bully text and email. Bystanders also can be significant in breaking the pattern of abuse by challenging the bully, supporting the target, or reporting the bully to an appropriate authority figure.

What Parents Can Do

Get informed

Ignorance is a fertile bed for cyber bullying to take root. Check out these websites for more information and links

Set some boundaries

Make it a home rule that digital communication ceases at a reasonable hour, say one hour before bedtime. Have black-out periods during dinner, family time and prayer time. Monitor your child’s internet and phone use. Do a regular Google search on their name and a history check on their internet visits.

Talk to your children

Discuss the three players in any bullying situation. Talk about a Christian response to each role. Make sure your child knows an appropriate authority figure to whom they can turn if needed, such as a teacher, school counselor or sports coach.

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