How Bullying Has Changed Over Time and Ways to Prevent It

5 min to read
Boy participating in online school on his laptop

A generation ago, a bully was a schoolyard annoyance who made fun of kids who were different than them and disrupted classrooms with attention-getting behavior.

Instead of directly confronting their victims, however, today’s cyberbullies lash out on the Internet, sometimes relying on the anonymity it provides to avoid detection. Their repetitive, aggressive behavior mimics that of the playground bullies and causes the same harm for victims—increased risk of depression, anxiety, and school absenteeism, among other concerns.

Fortunately, there are ways for parents to detect the warning signs and take pro-active measures to protect their children from cyberbullies.

How Is Bullying Changing with Modern Technology

Today’s students are technology natives with access to more digital devices and platforms than anyone could ever have imagined 10 years ago. They are constantly wired to the web, creating virtually unlimited opportunities for cyberbullying.

  • 59% of teenagers report they’ve been victims of cyberbullying. (Pew Research)
  • 20% of cyberbullied students say they’ve skipped school because of harassment. (UNICEF)
  • 4.9% of American high school students report they’ve been cyberbullied. (Stop Bullying)
  • 70% of children admit they have bullied other students via instant messaging, chat, email, text, and social media. (Smart Social)

“It is social-networking bullying that is particularly insidious,” notes Susan Greenfield Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today. “The social-networking environment amplifies the public nature of the act, creates more opportunities for anonymity of the perpetrator, and the bullying acts are left online permanently.

”Why do bullies—both the combative and cyber varieties—bully? A licensed clinical social worker identifies the following causes among their motives: 

  • Revenge for having been bullied themselves, which helps them justify their actions.
  • Jealousy about the academic performance of their victims or intolerant of socio-economic status.
  • Boredom, which they relieve through the excitement of cyberbullying.
  • Building themselves up by tearing others down. In other words, power.

Still, as gloomy as all that sounds, there are effective, proactive steps you can take to protect your students. Recognizing the warning signs is the first step. 

A child looking at social media on her phone.

How Has Bullying Changed Over the Years?

When bullying involved face-to-face encounters, witnesses and victims could take positive However, abusive attacks that occur via online technology are more difficult to prevent because students are constantly vulnerable. 

Victims don’t often know how to stop digital harassment without abandoning the Internet altogether and that’s not likely. On top of that, any of their friends who may be aware of the bullying are less likely to report it for fear of becoming the next target. Moreover, parents who are not as technically proficient as their children may be ill-prepared to recognize cyberbullying.

Cybernews says that, for parents, the first step in stopping cyberbullying—as well as in-person provocation—is to know how to recognize the symptoms. Victims often have trouble fitting in, have few friends, and may be:

  • Reluctant to go to school
  • Suspicious of others
  • Secretive about their online activities
  • Emotional or upset after going online

Sadness, difficulty sleeping, recurring headaches, stomachache, skin problems, and academic problems also are warning signs of online harassment. 

And at its most tragic, cyberbullying may play a role in the increase of tween and teen suicide and self-harm. 

How Has Bullying Evolved, and How Can Parents, Students, and Educators Deal with It?

Communication and trust are the keys to recognizing and preventing bullying. 

Social Media Victims Law Center recommends the following tips to help families and teachers become more aware of what cyberbullying is, how it affects their students, how to detect it, and how to respond mindfully:

  • Build trust. Tweens and teens may not speak up about bullying out of embarrassment or fear of your response as their parent. Instead, find ways to keep the lines of communication open to let students know you are willing to help them if they feel threatened. 
  • Talk about cyberbullying. Help them understand that it comes through all digital channels— sending mean texts or emails, posting hurtful messages or photos online, and spreading rumors. Use real-life examples so they can recognize it before it overwhelms them.
  • Give them the tools to respond. An inappropriate response may only encourage more harassment. Replying to even the score will escalate the situation and could turn the victim into the bully. Instead, help your child gain the confidence to take appropriate steps—ignoring the bully, for example, or reporting the incident.
  • Make yourself aware. Social platforms are always coming and going. Be aware of what’s hot and what’s not in cyberspace so you can monitor the potential exposure to harmful activity. 

Kids will respond better to those steps if they know you realize the value and importance they place on the Internet and social media. Before you put app trackers on their devices or enabling parental protections, talk to them about why you’re doing it. 

A parent monitoring her child’s online activity.

Can Bullying Affect At-Home Students?

Transferring from a brick-and-mortar school to homeschooling can provide a safe, bully-free learning environment that supports your family’s values. However, as bullying has changed with modern technology, online students still remain vulnerable through their personal Internet use and social media accounts.

There are effective ways for students to respond to cyberbullies and resolve other disagreements, arguments, and conflicts as they arise.

Discover all the benefits of an online education by visiting the Connections Academy® Resource Hub and requesting a free eGuide to learn about your options.

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