Bullying isn't a new problem and many can recall with great detail incidents of bullying perpetrated upon them. But in the digital age, bullying has moved online, commonly known as cyberbullying.
Justin Patchin, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said cyberbullying can take many forms.
“Basically, it’s using technology to harass, to humiliate, to threaten, to tease, and the forms or types are just as varied as the technology,” said Patchin, who is co-author of “Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness.”
Patchin said cyberbullying behavior tends to peak in middle school, though some bullying does continue into high school and adulthood. While a minority of teens are involved in cyberbullying, he said the effects can have a lasting impact on victims.
Teens surveyed about why they have cyberbullied others in the past gave two primary reasons, according to Patchin.
“The first is revenge. So, they did it because the other person did something to them first and so they feel justified in saying something mean," he said. "The other most common response is they just think it’s funny.”
Patchin said he finds that many who admit to bullying don’t understand the harm it causes.
But what should people do about it? Unlike past forms of bullying, which often involved face-to-face verbal confrontations, cyberbullying is easier to track, Patchin said. That’s why he recommends resisting the urge to respond or delete it.
“That’s one of the defining characteristics of cyberbullying. By definition, there’s always evidence,” Patchin said, advising that more can be done with solid evidence in hand than by conveying allegations through word of mouth.
Next, he suggests getting help.
“Find an adult you trust … find somebody who understands the circumstances, understands the relationship, and can help you resolve this situation,” Patching said.
He said that it takes the involvement of many individuals to put a stop to cyberbullying.
“We’ve long been advocating that responding to cyberbullying can’t just be put on the shoulders of parents, it can’t just be the responsibility of teachers. It really takes a coordinated community response, and teenagers need to be a part of that solution too,” he said.