Does the Internet make bullying worse?

Kids who bully find a way. They pound you in the school yard, or a group of girls whisper and giggle while looking at you. And now, there’s the newer method: they’ll get at you over the Internet.

Don’t wave it away — this is real. It’s not something that only happens to other people’s kids. The University of Toronto’s Faye Mishna conducted a survey in 2008 among 2,186 Toronto students and found that 50 per cent had been bullied over the Internet and through other cyber bullying technologies, such as text and instant messaging and Facebook.

“The Internet and social media are very useful communications tools in many ways,” says Mishna. “Unfortunately, they have also become weapons in a type of bullying that is becoming all too common among young people.

Mishna is the Dean and Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Chair in Child and Family at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. A specialist in children’s mental health as both a clinician and academic for 30 years, she is one of the go-to experts on how bullies ply their trade using the Internet. Resources like Kids Helpline regularly seek out her expertise.

She defines bullying as “intentionally and repetitively hurting someone and causing distress through the use of power.” With cyber bullying it can be even worse — cyber technologies such as the Internet enable the threat to be sent everywhere, so the repetition is greater.

How to ease the problem? “Yes, parents must monitor use of the Internet and social media. But we have to do more than that — the key is to learn how to identify the signs of cyber bullying and the kids being victimized by it. This is where research comes into play. It’s also important to work with kids so they learn to be empathic and stand up for others.”

And a coordinated approach is vital. “Parents, police, teachers, lawmakers, and child protection and social service agencies must get together to devise systematic, formalized approaches to helping kids with this problem.”

**Major funders for this research include Bell Canada and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Faye Mishna

Faye Mishna

University of Ottawa

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