Guide to Bullying Prevention

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As a school professional or parent, you already know Internet and cell phone use is pervasive among youth. New technologies have revolutionized communication and information sharing, and at the same time have created new opportunities for bullying and harassment. Cyberbullying may seem like the same old behavior using a different means, but there are several unique differences in how the terms bully, bystander, and target are defined. First, the “bully” can be the originator of an offensive text message––someone invisible and not limited to a geographical context. Recipients of a message could be considered “bystanders” if they do not send the message to others or “bullies” if they forward the message onward. The “target” of the message may or may not receive the message directly.

Cyberbullying has been defined by the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use to mean “being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material using the Internet or a cell phone.”69 It can take various forms:

  • Flaming—online verbal attacks or fights via electronic messages, (e.g., in chat rooms) and using hostile and vulgar language

  • Harassment—repeated messages of an offensive or derogatory nature directed to a target

  • Cyberstalking—repeated messages of an intimidating character that make a person feel afraid for his or her physical safety

  • Denigration—online “put-downs,” including sending or posting hurtful gossip or rumors to cause the target embarrassment

  • Impersonation—using someone’s e-mail account to send out messages, supposedly from the accountholder, that reflect badly on that person and may cause trouble, shame, or embarrassment

  • Outing and Trickery—disclosure of someone’s private information online, sending or posting embarrassing images, or deceptions leading another person to reveal personal details about him or herself

  • Exclusion—deliberately keeping someone out of an online group such as a buddy list or game70

Cyberthreats are online communications that pose a risk of physical danger to someone. They can be simple threats made against a target electronically, or distressing material posted by someone online that suggests s/he may be at risk for perpetrating violence against him or herself or others. Cyberbullying and cyberthreats can appear in various contexts—a personal web page, a blog, an email or instant message, a text or image message via cellphone, and chat room discussions. The cyberbully can be someone the target knows or a complete stranger. Cyberbullying can be anonymous, can draw in unknown others, and can go on around the clock––all day, every day. Additionally, cyberbullying appears to be on the rise. In 2000, 6% of internet users ages 10-17 said they had been subjected to online harassment; by 2005, the percentage had risen to 9%--an increase of 50%.71

Most perpetrators of cyberbullying are high school teens and middle school students. Because much of the content of cyberbullying is sexually graphic, this activity can also be sexual harassment. Failed relationships or fights within a relationship can be fertile ground for cyberbullying. For example, retaliatory disclosure of embarrassing personal information or images can follow the demise of a relationship. A cyberbully can also send seemingly random, abusive language and images or gather more personal information and images about the “target.”

The anonymous nature of the Internet, combined with the ability to reach mass audiences, is a potent tool for the bully. Language can be especially vicious and inflammatory because the perpetrator feels less personally responsibility for what is written online. Bystanders, who are also anonymous, might feel less social pressure to intervene, particularly if they encounter cyberbullying in a chat room or in a similar context. Moreover, hateful comments online can be broadcast around the world. Instead of a few people overhearing the abuse, now hundreds or thousands might. In addition, because 90 percent of youth receive their email at home, a cyberbully has in effect reached his or her tentacles into a target’s home. Now there is nowhere the target can go and not feel at risk for bullying.

Like many types of harassment, cyberbullying is usually not reported. Some teens may not connect cyberbullying with school, or they may fear their Internet and cellphone use will be restricted. Most schools have anti-harassment policies and provisions for addressing this form of student abuse. Here are a few suggestions for addressing cyberbullies.

Things to Think About

  • Include cyberbullying in your general discussions with students, staff, and parents about bullying prevention

  • Include protocols for reporting and addressing cyberbullying and create anti-harassment policies.

  • Recommend that all emails and electronic communications of harassment be saved.

  • Educate bystanders about cyberbullying in chat room conversations and how best to intervene.

  • Educate parents about how to block certain email addresses from instant messaging and chat and how to report complaints to the ISP of the bully.

  • If the harassment continues, the target may need to change his or her email address.

  • If threats are violent or sexual in nature, parents should contact the local police, and report it to CyberTipline: or 1-800-843-5678.

  • Go to for extensive information and resources for adults concerned about the health and safety of young Internet users.

Hazing: The “Wrongs” of Passage

Forms of initiation that rely on humiliation and other types of abuse––referred to as hazing––are a form of bullying. While hazing is more prevalent in high schools, middle schools also report hazing. In Massachusetts, hazing is a crime.72 Student groups at secondary institutions must be given a copy of sections 17 to 19 of Chapter 269 of the General Laws, and those groups must give a copy of the law to members of, or applicants to, their group.

The general bullying prevention strategies discussed in this guide will help with hazing prevention. Experts like Professor Richard Signal of the County College of Morris, NJ also recommend a few other ways to specifically address hazing. See

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