Cyberbullying: Not just for kids

By Sue Scheff

Adult maleNo one is immune to online harassment. From high-profile celebrities to politicians of all ideologies and from all-star athletes to ordinary parents, everyone is vulnerable when it comes to cyberwarfare.

Last year PEW Research revealed that seventy-three percent of adult witness online abuse, while forty percent were victims of virtual attacks. Now, PEW Research has just released their most recent report, revealing that adults have increased their social-media usage tenfold over the past decade. This means that sixty-five percent of adults are now fully engaged on social-networking platforms. Yes, we are living in a participatory culture online, but are all these new users keeping it civil?

The latest research from RMIT and La Trobe discovered that two-thirds of young Australian adults ages 18-24 reported online abuse. One in five women ages 18-24 and two in five women ages 18-19 experienced some form of sexual harassment via digital communication. Men reported they were abused by both genders, while women said they were more likely to be harassed by men. Perpetrators of virtual harassment and abuse, overwhelmingly, were twice as likely to be men. Disturbingly, one in ten online users of both genders were sent nude or semi-nude photos without their consent.

Keep in mind that we are talking about adults here–though we can question whether or not they are acting like grownups. Last spring, a study by Primus/PrevNet reported that one in five Canadian parents admitted to digitally sharing intimate photos and/or sexually related messages. With a forty-one percent divorce rate for a first marriage and sixty percent for a second marriage, parents (and everyone else, for that matter) need to pause before sending sex-related texts and/or pictures. You never know when you will be the next victim of eVenge or revenge porn.

Dealing with cyber abuse

According to the online journal The Conversation, “Women (56 percent) were significantly more likely than men (36 percent) to be ‘moderately,’ ‘very,’ or ‘extremely’ upset by the digital harassment, and to have left a site or turned off their device as a result of the experience.” Nevertheless, these percentages are quite high for both genders, indicating that a large number of adults are being made to feel unsafe.

October is Bullying Prevention Month, a time when schools will build their awareness about prevention of peer cruelty, offline and online. However, the brutality of online abuse is not “child’s play.” Emotional damage caused by cyberbullying is just as painful for an adult as it is for children. Moreover, the research discussed here is based on young adults (ages 18-24), many of whom will someday be parents. Without awareness-building tools for this age group and beyond, the cyberbullying mentality will not suddenly stop when they start families.

It’s time to understand that everyone needs tools to prevent, recover from and overcome virtual public shaming no matter their age. Recognizing that adults play a large part in the digital landscape is crucial. Many have been suffering for a long time or have been shooting cyber-bullets at each other.

Prevention: back to the basics

We consistently discuss digital etiquette for kids, especially teenagers who are preparing for college admissions; however, we are consistently forgetting thatseventy-four percent of adults are on social-media sites (seventy-one percent on Facebook).

Adults need to “grow up” with their digital citizenship skills.

• Keep it clean. There’s never a need to use offensive language. Outside of comments concerning sexual harassment, race and gender slurs and overall humiliation,offensive language was the most common form of harassment according to the recent study.
• Consider sexual content before sending/posting it. You might be of legal age, but what are the consequences to your future — Relationships? Employment? Career?
• Practice email etiquette, especially as an adult. Do you still have a silly email address: Qutie4You(at) Isn’t it time to grow up?
• Do you have a sensitive email to send? Wait twenty-four hours and reread it to be sure it’s appropriate.
Ding-dong, process server. Remember, everything you send or post has the potential to become an exhibit in court someday. Free speech doesn’t condone defamation.
• Avoid the dreaded “reply all” mistake. You can make a virtual enemy fast by criticizing someone in a reply-all list without realizing you hit the “reply all” button.
• De-clutter your online friends. A “friend” can become a foe–even in adulthood.
• Create targeted lists on your social-media platforms to share private photos. But never expect 100 percent privacy online. The Internet is a public domain.
• Kindness is for all ages.

Recovery from cyberbullying

• If you need emotional help to deal with a cyberbully, reach out to a friend for support. No one has to be alone.
• If you feel embarrassed, humiliated or shamed, seek professional help. Therapy is confidential. Don’t allow your feelings to fester; it will only get worse. Keeping pain inside is not healthy.
• Take care of yourself by focusing on your personal wellness — offline.
• Find places where you can give back — online and offline. You can do small things like giving cyber-hugs to others or volunteering at a local charity you’re passionate about. You will be surprised how giving back can increase your well-being.
• Ignoring cyber-hate isn’t easy. I’ve been there. However, as an adult, you have the ability to understand that these trolls, former friends, or whoever they are will only gain power if you let them. Start your recovery by rebuilding your online life. You matter!

Takeaway tips:

• Grownups are role models, so lead by your online example.
• Online profiles matter at all ages. You may wake up at age 48 without a job. Are you digitally prepared for your virtual interview?
• Pause before sending sexual texts or posting offensive content. How would you feel if that content showed up in the newsfeed of everyone you know?
• Digital shaming is painful at all ages; it takes five seconds to affect five years of someone’s life–even an adult’s. Don’t be the cause of that.

Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She founded Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc in 2001. You can find Sue on Twitter at @SueSheff. Read more about her here.