Online Bullying. On the Rise?

We hear a lot about cyberbullying these days. It’s basically bullying through electronic means, e.g., Facebook, texts, IMs, email, etc. Alarmists lead us to believe that cyberbullying is fundamentally different from classic “playground” bullying. But is that true? The premise that cyberbullying is different from regular bullying is that its victim cannot escape it. It’s as if there are no technological or psychological means of defending against it. Really?

Of course, bullying is a terrible thing. I won’t minimize its impact. At the same time, if your child or teen gets cyberbullied, it’s an opportunity to learn or reinforce a couple of things. One, look at what would motivate a person to bully — particularly to do it online, where the anonymity or lack of physical presence makes it the ultimate of cowardly acts.

Two, look at the counter technology available to block, ban, unfollow or otherwise prevent undesired parties from entering your social media or Internet space. For the most part, after a few clicks or taps, you can be done with them. It’s a liberating thing. If you have to still deal with them at school or work, that’s of course significant, but cyberbullies are often too cowardly and sneaky to take their tactics out of the Internet where they feel powerful with no consequences.

If someone comes into my psychotherapy office to talk about the cyberbullying, I give them the most sympathetic listening ear in the world. At the same time, I would not let them leave without knowing that they are free to kick cyberbullies out of their cyber space. I also remind them that cyberbullies are the weakest, saddest and most vulnerable people on the planet.

Rationally speaking, it doesn’t make sense to be afraid of people who cannot and most likely will never hurt you. Hurt feelings are not the same as broken limbs. If someone threatens violence against you over the Internet, that’s a whole different story, especially if the threats are viable and credible. But cyberbullying as we generally understand it primarily – if not exclusively, involves psychological warfare. The way you fight in psychological warfare is by letting your enemy know that he or she has no power. You lessen that power as you build your own emotional muscle.

Bullies are attracted to people who seem weaker than themselves. They prey on people who are vulnerable. While bullying is in no way justified or excusable, there’s probably something about you that the bully sees as vulnerable and, because of the bully’s sick nature, needs to prey upon. If you really want a new way of looking at the bully, think of that behavior as providing you an opportunity to grow and strengthen your own self-respect.

Let’s face another fact. A lot of time, parents and guardians can have their own agendas. Whether right or wrong, they have felt pushed around or put upon by others in society. If they see something similar happening to their own kid, or groups of kids in society, then they often feel an urge to defend these kids as a means of righting the injustices they feel they experienced in their lives. This is natural and is fine as far as it goes. But if it involves turning the victim (the child or children) of cyberbullying into a person who goes through life seeing everything through the lens of defensive, petulant and thin-skinned victimhood, that’s in fact a similar form of abuse by enabling or encouraging the victim to be weak and cowering.

Sometimes the protectors can just as damaging as the forces from which they seek to protect the young and the vulnerable. Parents and friends: Be careful not to unwittingly play into the bully’s agenda by encouraging the victim to think like a victim.


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