Why do kids bully each other online? Let me count the ways....
Who knows why kids do anything? It's their role in life to experiement and try things out. They push the envelope and spread their wings. They try to set up social levels and play at being adults.
It's also a time when they forget their manners, throw caution to the wind and act badly. And when the Internet is concerned, can play at being anyone or anything they want and think they are anonymous while doing it. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
That said, while there are no limits to what kids will do online to each other, we have learned that most netbullies fall into one of four types. The types are motive-driven, based on the motives for the bullying. They may use the same methods as the other kinds of netbullies, but the reasons for their actions are very different. Solutions require that we understand the motives involved to address them effectively.
The four types of online bullies include:
- The Vengeful Angel
- The Power-Hungry or Revenge of the Nerds
- The “Mean Girls”
- The Inadvertent Cyberbully or “Because I Can”
Some methods of cyberbullying are unique to a certain kind of cyberbullying motive. And so are the ways the cyberbully maintain their secrecy or broadcast their actions to others. Some are secretive, some require an audience and some are entirely inadvertent.
Because the motives differ from each type of cyberbully, the solutions need to address their special issues. There is no “one size fits all” when cyberbullying is concerned. But understanding more about why they cyberbully others will help. You have to address the motives. That’s why awareness campaigns need several different messages to address the problem.
“The Vengeful Angel”: In this type of cyberbullying, the cyberbully doesn’t see themselves as a bully at all. They see themselves as righting wrongs, or protecting themselves or others from the “bad guy” they are now victimizing. This includes situations when the victim of cyberbullying or offline bullying retaliates and becomes a cyberbully themselves They may be angry at something the victim did and feel they are taking warranted revenge or teaching the other a lesson. The “Vengeful Angel” cyberbully often gets involved trying to protect a friend who is being bullied or cyberbullied. They generally work alone, but may share their activities and motives with their close friends and others they perceive as being victimized by the person they are cyberbullying.
The “Power-Hungry” and “Revenge of the Nerds”: Just as their schoolyard counterparts, some cyberbullies want to exert their authority, show that they are powerful enough to make others do what they want and some want to control others with fear. Sometimes the kids want to hurt another kid. Sometimes they just don’t like the other kid. These are no different than the offline tough schoolyard bullies, except for their method. Power-Hungry” cyberbullies usually need an audience. It may be a small audience of their friends or those within their circle at school. Often the power they feel when only cyberbullying someone is not enough to feed their need to be seen as powerful and intimidating. They often brag about their actions. They want a reaction, and without one may escalate their activities to get one.
Interestingly enough, though, the “Power-Hungry” cyberbully is often the victim of typical offline bullying. They may be female, or physically smaller, the ones picked on for not being popular enough, or cool enough. They may have greater technical skills. Some people call this the “Revenge of the Nerds” cyberbullying. It is their intention to frighten or embarrass their victims. And they are empowered by the anonymity of the Internet and digital communications and the fact that they never have to confront their victim. They may act tough online, but are not tough in real life. They are often not a bullying but “just playing one on TV.”
This kind of cyberbullying usually takes place one-on-one and the cyberbully often keeps their activities secret from their friends. If they share their actions, they are doing it only with others they feel would be sympathetic. The rarely appreciate the seriousness of their actions, and often resort to cyberbullying-by-proxy. Because of this and their tech skills, can be the most dangerous of all cyberbullying.
“Mean Girls”: The last type of cyberbullying occurs when the cyberbully is bored or looking for entertainment. It is largely ego-based and the most immature of all cyberbullying types. Typically, in the “Mean Girls” bullying situations, the cyberbullies are female. They may be bullying other girls (most frequently) or boys (less frequently).
“Mean Girls” cyberbullying is usually done, or at least planned, in a group, either virtually or together in one room. This kind of cyberbullying is done for entertainment. It may occur from a school library or a slumber party, or from the familyroom of someone after school. This kind of cyberbullying requires an audience. The cyberbullies in a “mean girls” situation want others to know who they are and that they have the power to cyberbully others. This kind of cyberbullying grows when fed by group admiration, cliques or by the silence of others. It quickly dies if they don’t get the entertainment value they are seeking.
The Inadvertant Cyberbully: Inadvertant cyberbullies usually don’t think they are cyberbullies at all. They may be pretending to be tough online, or role playing, or they may be reacting to hateful or provocative messages they have received. Unlike the Revenge of the Nerds cyberbullies, they don’t lash out intentionally. They just respond without thinking about the consequences of their actions.
They may feel hurt, or angry because of a communication sent to them, or something they have seen online. And they tend to respond in anger or frustration. They don’t think before clicking “send.”
Sometimes, while experimenting in role-playing online, they may send cyberbullying communications or target someone without understanding how serious this could be. They do it for the heck of it “Because I Can.” They do it for the fun of it. They may also do it to one of their friends, joking around. But their friend may not recognize that it is another friend or make take it seriously. They tend to do this when alone, and are mostly surprised when someone accuses them of cyberabuse.
Education can help considerably in preventing and dealing with the consequences of cyberbullying.
Teaching kids to “Take 5!” before responding to something they encounter online is a good place to start. Jokingly, we tell them to “Drop the Mouse! And step away from the computer!” We then encourage them to find ways to help them calm down. This may include doing yoga, or deep-breathing. It may include running, playing catch or shooting hoops. It may involve taking a bath, hugging a stuffed animal or talking on the phone with friends. Each child can find their own way of finding their center again. And if they do, they will often not become a cyberbully, even an inadvertent cyberbully.
Teaching them the consequences of their actions, and that the real “Men in Black” may show up at their front door sometimes helps. Since many cyberbullying campaigns include some form of hacking or password or identity theft, serious laws are implicated. Law enforcement, including the FBI, might get involved in these cases.
But few cyberbullying campaigns can succeed without the complacency and the often help of other kids. If we can help kids understand how much bullying hurts, how in many cases (unlike the children’s chant) words can hurt you, fewer may cooperate with the cyberbullies. They will think twice before forwarding a hurtful e-mail, or visiting a cyberbullying “vote for the fat girl” site, or allowing others to take videos or cellphone pictures of personal moments or compromising poses of others.
And, in addition to not lending their efforts to continue the cyberbullying, if given an anonymous method of reporting cyberbullying websites, profiles and campaigns, kids can help put an end to cyberbullying entirely. School administration, community groups and even school policing staff can receive these anonymous tips and take action quickly when necessary to shut down the site, profile or stop the cyberbullying itself.
They can even let others know that they won’t allow cyberbullying, supporting the victim, making it clear that they won’t be used to torment others and that they care about the feelings of others is key. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
We need to teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt, is not acceptable. If they don’t allow the cyberbullies to use them to embarrass or torment others, cyberbullying will quickly stop. It’s a tall task, but a noble goal. And in the end, our children will be safer online and offline. We will have helped create a generation of good cybercitizens, controlling the technology instead of being controlled by it.