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Cellphones and Laptops: Cyberbullying in Your Pocket or Backpack

Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that happens over the Internet using an electronic device. It can be an email or text message that is mean or hurtful, such as spreading a rumors, sharing an embarrassing picture, or making fun of another person. Because most kids can easily get online with a cellphone or computer, cyberbullying can happen to anyone, anywhere. In fact, statistics show that between 9 and 35 percent of kids in the United States have been victims of cyberbullying. As a kid, it is important to understand what cyberbullying is and how it can be a problem.

Understanding Cyberbullying

Bullying is a word that most people understand and may have already experienced. A schoolyard bully is a student that regularly harasses, embarrasses or physically hurts another student. Bullying takes place at school, outside of the school grounds, on the way home, or in other places where the bully feels that he or she won't get caught by an adult. This is different from cyberbullying in several ways. Cyberbullying does not involve face-to-face harassment or violence. Instead it happens only online, where the bully may harass, threaten, or spread rumors and images of the victim. Unlike regular bullying, it can even take place when the victim is at home, during any time of the day or night, on any day of the week. It does not involve actual physical violence, but it is meant to hurt the victim's feelings and the way that the victim feels about his or herself. Because of that, cyberbullying can end in physical injury or even the death of the victim by suicide. Although the types of bullying are different, every case is different and may involve both to different degrees.

Cyberharassment and cyberstalking are two words that are often talked about in addition to cyberbullying. These terms are at times used instead of cyberbullying, however they have different meanings. One of the main differences is the age of the person who is doing the harassing, or bullying. With cyberbullying, that person is the same age as the victim, and they both are minors, or under 18. With cyberstalking or cyberharassment, the person who is doing the harassing is an adult but the victim is either a minor or another adult. Another difference is the nature of the attack. With cyberbullying and cyberharassment, the attacks occur exclusively online. A cyberstalker is a person who regularly spies on their online activities and track down personal information. Cyberstalkers may also start to stalk their victim in person, even if the victim is underage.

Methods of harassment

There are several different methods that a person can use when it comes to cyberbullying. It is understood that cyberbullying occurs over the Internet. This means that anything that connects to the Internet can be used for this type of harassment, including desktop computers, laptops, cellphones and smart devices. A person can use text messaging or instant messages as methods of bullying another student. In addition, he or she may use email to send images or other content to anyone on their contact list so that they can harass and embarrass their victim. Bullies may also use social media websites and chat rooms to bully others. Another increasingly common method involves hacking into their victim's chat or social networking accounts. They may then pretend to be the victim and say anything that may embarrass or get the victim in trouble.

Victims and Bullies

Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying, regardless of a person's popularity or whether or not they are a boy or a girl. Some people are targeted out of jealousy, misunderstandings, or simply because someone is mean-spirited or has insecurities that are being compensated for by putting down others. As with victims, anyone with access to the Internet can become a cyberbully, even unintentionally. When people are on the Internet, they may behave differently than they would under different circumstances. This is because it is easier to say and do things that are unkind when there is no one watching. Even people who would normally not say hurtful things may go online to say or do something that could upset another person. Teens that are concerned that they have unintentionally behaved in the same manner as a cyberbully should look at their past interactions online. Have they teased or been rude to someone in an IM, text or on a social network page? Have they posted, forwarded or shared private images, information, emails or texts of a person without their consent? Insulted someone while participating in online gaming? Participated in polls that were meant to be mean or embarrassing to another person? These are just a few of the examples of ways that someone may be guilty of being a cyberbully. Another way is to ask if their behavior has ever made friends feel bad about themselves.

Dangers of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying may not seem dangerous at first, however there are many dangers associated with it. Victims of this type of abuse can easily feel afraid, particularly if they are being threatened online. When a person is involved in sexting, they may encounter situations where people who have seen their picture may want to harm them. Sexting occurs when a person sends an image or video of themselves naked or partially naked to someone. That person who receives the message can then send it to other people who may continue to spread the image to anyone who has an Internet connection. Sexting may also involve text messages about sex. It is very easy to forward a picture. This is why it is very important not to send embarrassing pictures to anyone, even a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Depression is another danger of cyberbullying. When a person is constantly harassed and made fun of they may begin to have a lower opinion of themselves. This may cause them to hurt or even attempt to kill themselves. Bullying and cyberbullying is the leading cause of teen suicides.

Even people who are cyberbullies face dangers. This type of danger often involves the law, although they could also face injury if the victim or the victim's friends strike back. Depending on the state, there are laws against cyberbullying and sexting. In some states these laws may include suspension from school or they may face legal action. In the case of sexting and images, the person spreading the images may even be in danger of going to jail.

Defending Against Cyberbullying

While it isn't always possible to prevent cyberbullying, there are a number of ways to be on the defensive. Although it is never the fault of the victim, there are precautionary steps that can minimize the risk. One way to do this is to never send out any texts or messages that could be embarrassing if read by others, this includes sexting and sending images of themselves. Care should be taken to only give out email addresses or phone numbers to friends and people who are trusted. When using social networking sites, the profile should be kept private. Anyone who goes on chats should not use their real name or last name. Instead they should select a username that does not easily identify them.

If online bullying occurs despite efforts to avoid it, immediate action should be taken. If the bullying has just started and there have been no threats of violence, ask the person to stop and block all communication from them. If this doesn't work, the person can be reported to the Internet service provider or moderator for the website where the bullying is taking place. It is also important to tell a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, or guardian. If cyberbullying continues or involves threats of violence or inappropriate images, kids should tell their parents or guardians immediately. Saving the harassing messages will make it easier to prove the bullying and will show how often it happens. Even if the bullying is not directed at them personally, teens can help to prevent or put a stop to it. They can discourage friends from cyberbullying by pointing out how it can be harmful. They can refuse to participate in acts that are considered cyberbullying, such as spreading images or messages about a person. Teens can also report incidents of cyberbullying to an adult who can put a stop to it.

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