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Friday, September 10, 2004

Cyberbullying and cyber bullies

When I wrote my UK book in 1999, I had to include an entire chapter on cyberbullying. It was and continues to be a very important issue for parents in the UK. In the U.S. pornography online and kids exposure to inappropriate information was more important. This reflects the difference in attitudes on bullying generally, I suspect. In the US we expect ourselves and our children to be tough...stand up to bullies.

The recent article in the NY Times and International Herald Tribune has created a ground swell of interest in cyberbullying. Parents are surprised by its existence and the level of harassment and pain involved. They are amazed when their quiet, normally respectful preteen or teen is accused of being a cyberbully. And few understand thirdparty cyberbulying or cyberbullying by proxy, when the victim is actually attacked by third parties based on provocations instigated by the real cyberbully.

I was recently interviewed by a leading international newspaper, by someone I know and respect. When I told her about the level of cyberbullying we have experienced from her country, among others, it was met with skeptism. How could we have handled that many cases and received that many inquiries if the local parent Internet safety groups were not aware of the problem?

I was shocked initially. Then I asked her to reach out to local children herslef. And my experiences were quickly verified by children sharing stories about how the cyberbully others and have been victimized by cyberbullies.

How could this problem escape parents? I have been talking about it for many years. But perhaps our calling it cyberharassment, rather than the kid-centric "cyberbullying" has confused people. Protecting children from other children is and has been a serious problem for many years.

Part of the probem is that cyberbullying victims, like their cyberharassment victim adult counterparts don't and shouldn't come forward to the media. This inevitably subjects them to more cyberbullying and cyberharassment, sometimes by their original harassers and sometimes by copycats. Without a real victim and a real story, the media piece either sounds like unsubstantiated hype or has little impact. But my job is to protect children, not subject them to media exposure and further exploitation.

This creates a catch 22. Without real stories, no one will fully appreciate the degree of the problem, but no victim should come forward because they will become victimized again.

Instead, reach out to your kids and their friends. Ask them what's going on. Let's find ways to create awareness on this probme without exposing children to ridicule and further pain. You shouldn't have to ask me for information about what your children are facing online. Ask them instead. They need to know you're there and that you care. You can learn more about this problem at, our new site that uses Marvel characters to teach responsible Internet use.

Then, if you need my help...e-mail me at or reach out to We're happy to help.