Until recently, parents, teachers, and news accounts have focused on the relationship between a bully and his or her target. But experts say that there are usually more kids involved in a cyberbullying scenario, making it a much more complex organism than previously thought. In fact, one of the side effects of how public bullying has become is that potentially everyone in the bully's circle of friends -- both online and off-line -- may be involved.
Identifying the different roles in a cyberbullying situation can help you to help your kid develop self-awareness and a sense of empathy. These skills will go a long way toward cultivating an online culture of respect and responsibility.
First, there's the cyberbully, the aggressor who's using digital media tools (such as the Internet and cell phone) to deliberately upset or harass their target -- the person who's being cyberbullied. Then there are the bystanders, the kids who are aware that something cruel is going on but who stay on the sidelines (either out of indifference or because they're afraid of being socially isolated or of becoming a target themselves). But there are also kids who act as upstanders. These are the kids who actively try to break the cycle, whether by sticking up for the target, addressing the bully directly, or notifying the appropriate authorities about what's going on.
Kids may play different roles at different times. Your advice to your child will differ depending on the situation and the specific role your child is playing in whatever bullying or drama is going on.
By making kids aware that a safe world is everyone's responsibility, we empower them to take positive actions -- like reporting a bully, flagging a cruel online comment, or not forwarding a humiliating photo -- that ultimately can put a stop to an escalating episode of cruelty. (Get more tips on exactly what to do if your kid is cyberbullied, and learn how other parents are taking action.)