For most youth, the Internet is all about socializing, and while most of these social interactions are positive, increasing numbers of kids are using the technology to intimidate and harass others – a phenomenon known as cyberbullying.
Verbal or emotional abuse is the most prevalent form of bullying online. Social bullying, another pervasive form – particularly with girls – includes social exclusion and spreading gossip and rumours.
It’s important to note that there is no single profile of a child who bullies. While some fit the traditional image of someone who is generally aggressive and has poor impulse control, others may be very sensitive to social nuances and are able to use that understanding against their targets.
Cyberbullying is everyone’s business and the best response is a pro-active or preventative one. From the outset, we can reduce the risks associated with Internet use if we engage in an open discussion with our children about their online activities and set up rules that will grow along with them.
Cyberbullying can be addressed under civil law or criminal law, based on the situation.
Despite all of the concerns about what youth are doing with digital media, MediaSmarts’ study Young Canadians in a Wired World (YCWW) has found that not only are most kids not getting in trouble online, they’re often being actively kind and thoughtful towards people they know.
As we grow, we pass through distinct stages of moral development in which our ethical thinking is based on different principles. The second stage in learning ethics is becoming aware of rules that either punish or reward us for doing something: younger children are most motivated by a fear of being punished for bad behaviour, but become more concerned with the rewards of good behaviour as they get older.
Empathy is at the heart of ethics. In order to develop a sense of right and wrong that goes past just being afraid of punishment or hoping for a reward, we have to be able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.
It’s important to make young people aware of the laws that apply to what they do online, as well as to have household rules that cover online behaviour. For example, MediaSmarts’ YCWW research has found that students who have rules in the home relating to various web activities are less likely to engage in risky online behaviour , and another study has found a strong association between kids visiting websites mentioned in ads and an absence of household rules on Internet use .
Though we sometimes talk about the online world as being “virtual reality,” the things we do there can have real consequences. When we’re using the same screen to talk to our friends that we use to kill aliens or when we can’t see the people we’re hurting, robbing or copying from, it’s easy to forget that what we do online matters. This section looks at some of the reasons why youth might behave differently online than they do offline and strategies for getting them to see the online world through an ethical lens.