4 Surprising Characteristics of Kids Who Cyberbully

Oct 23, 2016

Whether by Android, iPhone, Snapchat or Instagram, researchers say that a hurtful word or picture impacts a kid like a physical punch or blow – and with a lasting impact. However, the cyberbully can act quietly, anonymously, and frequently at all hours, without visual evidence of trauma.

About 43% of kids have been victims of an online bully, some having experienced it more than once. Parents and educators are left wondering what motivates the bully, what keeps the victim silent and what they can collectively do to stop the violence.

The Bully
Online bullies have a target audience—most often their friends and acquaintances. Most victims are known to the perpetrator and many perpetrators will shrug off an attack as “just a joke.” However, the “jokes” continue and become more abusive over time. There are some interesting characteristics about the bully with which a parent ought to understand:

  1. The bully may target others online because it can be anonymous. The bully can avoid facing the victim and they believe they will not get caught.
  2. However, the bully often sabotages their anonymity as they seek attention, hoping that others will find the teasing as “funny” as they do, finding rank within a group of others who may encourage their behavior.
  3. 3) Bullies often have a hard time empathizing with those on the other side of the “joke,” which may stem from their own difficulty fitting in. Many of these kids have less involved parents and, sadly, their parents may not see much wrong with a “silly online joke” which is excused as harmless juvenile behavior.
  4. Bullies tend to lie on both ends of the social spectrum—the kids on the fringe and the “alpha kids” who are popular. Each end of the spectrum finds kids who are vulnerable—those who lack “status” and those who are afraid to lose the status they believe they have. Taking advantage of another gives these vulnerable bullies social currency as they jockey for position.

The Bullied
The victim of online bullying often suffers in silence. Researchers estimate that only one in 10 kids will inform a parent that they are suffering from online harassment. When parents don’t know, they can’t intervene.

Here are some common characteristics of a kid who is experiencing bullying—online or in person:

  1. School phobia or anxiety: Kids who are experiencing social stress or trauma, whether online or in the school hallways, may begin to complain about physical discomfort or resistance going to school. Grades and attendance may begin to drop. Aberrant behavior may begin for them at school.
  2. Changes in mood or attitude: Students who experience pervasive or unpredictable attacks can begin to experience depression, hopelessness and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
  3. Changes in appearance: Kids who have been subject to ongoing trauma often stop eating, change their dress and habits, stop taking care of their hygiene, isolate themselves as they opt out of regular activities.

The Parents
Parents are often left in the dark when their kids are experiencing the victimization of a quiet assault. Staying aware of symptoms is important and asking good questions is key. Here are some preventions and interventions you can begin to adopt:

  1. Place parental control software on your home and mobile devices that safeguards your child from online predators – even those who had seemed to be one of your child’s acquaintances or friends.
  2. Have regular conversations with your child about what constitutes a truly funny joke and what kinds of “jokes” are actually acts of teasing or harassment.
  3. Pay attention to your child’s nonverbal cues that things may not be well with them. Find ways to ask about their social and emotional wellbeing, and be prepared to understand their actions as more than just a “frustrating adolescent mood” that sends you erupting into an argument with them – compounding their feelings of alienation.
  4. Find a village of parents and educators who can offer solace to your worries and take action regarding your concerns. Bullying is not a phase and it may persist unless addressed in an intentional manner.

While the technologies with which kids bully may change, the human impulse to harass has long been with us. I remember my grandfather talking about his classmates who used to dip the end of others’ pigtails into the inkwells on their school desks. Kids and parents may have laughed it off as a childish prank, but the stunt was seen for what it was as ink dripped down school hallways. Victims were identified, as were the victimizers.

The shame and embarrassment continues today in those very same hallways. But the behaviors, bullies, and victims may be unseen when the actions take place via text or on line. Today’s parents and educators need to combine an awareness of teenagers’ technologies with a strong commitment to good old fashioned parenting.