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The problem with “cyberbullying”

The New York Times on Monday ran a front-page feature about how school administrators and teachers were being pulled into cases of "cyberbullying" of students outside of school hours.

The Timesarticle admits that "cyberbulling" is an "imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites". In a 2010 study, an organization called the Cyberbulling Research Center defined cyberbulling as "willful and repeated harm" inflicted via phones and computers. This organization claims that one-in-five middle students had been affected. The Times piece highlights that it is not clear who is responsible for dealing with these conflicts: the family, the police or schools.

This issue is problematic, for a number of reasons. Using concepts like "cyberbulling" is a way to create the impression that something fundamentally new is happening, due to the use of new technology. In fact, conflicts among kids have existed for ages. "Bullying" should refer to severe harassment and violence, which is thankfully rare. But today there is an expansion of the concept of bullying to cover ordinary antagonisms among schoolchildren. By adding "cyber" in front of "bullying", and indicating that anyone who writes a mean text is a bully, the idea becomes even more pervasive.

Furthermore, widening the concept of bullying gives a reason for more adult supervision and greater intervention in the lives of teens. Already, this is a generation that does not have enough independent interaction, which is the means by which adolescents learn to negotiate socially and eventually become adults. 

Finally, hyping-up "cyberbullying" makes the job of educators more difficult. Their job is to teach, and part of that is to assert authority in the classroom. They need to control the class by themselves; if they are being closely watched to ensure they are dealing with bullying, then their authority is undermined. Demanding that teachers and principals police interactions outside of school is asking them to do more than their job. That they are being asked is an indication that too much of a burden of social well-being is placed on schools today.

To the extent that "cyberbullying" outside of school really is a problem, it is one for parents to deal with. According to the Times article, in one case of a 12-year-old boy sending sexually-explicit threats to a girl, the girl's parents demanded that the principal punish the student. The principal responded that it occurred out of school, and asked if the parents had contacted the parents of the boy. Their response was revealing: "Too awkward, they replied. The fathers coach sports together." Well, there's the problem right there: a parent being too afraid to talk with another parent.

In many instances of conflicts that at first appear to be between kids only, you will find that the real problem is the relations among adults, and their inability to act like mature adults and in solidarity with each other.

2 Responses to “The problem with “cyberbullying”” Leave a reply ›

  • I picked up on exactly the same point -- the issue is parents who are unwilling to talk about/confront/deal with issues that are totally within their own purview and looking for a third party to intervene on their behalf. Scary.

  • I read the article too. The problem is that this problem of cyberbullying will never go away until every parent realizes they are part of the problem and part of the solution. Parents need to get involved in helping solve the cyberbullying problem. If parents cared enough about their child being the bully or passing along the material as much as they care when their child is a victim, it would be a huge step forward. But then, of course, how do you know if your child is involved in cyberbullying? You need to monitor their Internet activity. Monitoring software like our PC Pandora records everything that happens on the PC. If your child is a victim, you will know; if they are a bully, you will know. Whatever the case may be with your child (victim or bully), you need to intervene. Check us out at to see how you can be a part of the solution instead of a passive part of the problem.

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