Robert Trestan, Civil Rights Counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, weighs in on the discussion of cyberbullying. We interviewed him and asked for his advice for parents.
Q: What is cyberbullying?
Trestan: States have different legal definitions, but cyberbullying essentially means harassment or intimidation through an electronic communication, which 1) physically harms a student or damages their property; or, 2) substantially interferes with a student’s educational opportunities, or 3) is so severe or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or 4) substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school.
In many ways it is the school equivalent of workplace harassment. Adults do not tolerate it at work, and teens should not accept it at school either.
Q: What is the most common form of cyberbullying?
Trestan: Texting and the posting of offensive material online often play a significant role in the targeting of an individual. This can take the form of a video of students talking about a classmate or harassing text messages.
Q: How prevalent is sexting?
Trestan: According to a variety of studies, 20% to 30% of young people have engaged in some kind of sexting, either sending, receiving or forwarding sexually suggestive emails or text messages with a nude or nearly-nude photo. Everyone needs to remember that once you hit the send button, you have no control over where the photo ultimately ends up. Emailing explicit photos is illegal in most states.
Q: Is there a profile of a teen who cyberbullies?
Trestan: Bullies and their targets come from all backgrounds. Research shows that girls are more likely to cyberbully and that affluence seems to increase the risk. Also, those who cyberbully tend to spend more time online and own/use more technology than their peers.
Q: Is there a different profile for a teen who bullies versus a teen who cyberbullies?
Trestan: Teens who cyberbully don’t necessarily have the physical or social power that people who bully do. They may take on personas that they would not assume in person, and the anonymity/invisibility of the Web may reduce inhibitions and embolden them to act in ways they wouldn’t offline. Parents need to ensure that their children understand the effects of technology and use it responsibly
Q: How can parents teach their teens to avoid being bullied on the Internet?
Trestan: Parents need to understand the technology that their teens use and talk to them about online safety. It is no different than teaching a child to look both ways before crossing the street. Teens need to tell a trusted adult when they experience any form of online bullying.
I recommend that teens should share passwords with their parents and establish an agreement about access. Teens need their privacy, and parents need to know that they are safe. Creating that balance requires trust and communication.
Q: What should schools do to deal with cyberbullying?
Trestan: Involve parents and students and everyone in the school community. Schools should teach about cyberbullying and its impact. While schools often explain the rules and consequences, they frequently fail to teach about what led up to the rule.
Schools should have clear policies on cyberbullying, which include training for all staff and procedures for violations. Schools must create safe learning environments for everyone, free from all forms of harassment.
Parents are the best advocates for their kids, so they must work with school administrators to ensure that the school is safe and aware of concerns when they arise. If your school isn’t proactive about cyberbullying, it’s time to ask them why not.
Q: What should parents do to deal with cyberbullying?
Trestan: Parents must speak to teens in language that they understand; it’s not about the law or telling them that they can’t text, post on Instagram, or upload to YouTube. Rather, as parents, we must help them understand what cyberbullying is and how it affects them and their friends. Electronic communication is a huge part of their social life so the lesson is about communicating responsibly and treating people with respect.
For more information and tips on how to prevent cyberbullying, go to Adl.org.