Cyberbullying a Serious Problem

By Officer Ken McNeill
Pleasanton Police Department

Bullies were once just a school-yard problem, but their reach today can be found on cell phones, e-mail and many places on the Internet. This practice of electronic bullying has become known as “cyberbullying,” and it is a serious problem.

Teenagers today spend much of their lives online. Cyberbullying happens when teenagers – or anyone else, for that matter -- use the Internet, their cell phones or other devices to send or post text messages or images they hope will hurt or embarrass another person. Cyberbullying is a problem that affects almost half of all American teens, according to search engine Yahoo’s “iSafe” program.

Unlike the days of old, you don’t have to be physically big to be an online bully. All you need to do is create Web pages devoted to unpopular students; send anonymous, hurtful, insulting or threatening e-mail or text message; post compromising photos; spread nasty rumors or make unfounded, derogatory sexual comments. Bullies can now bash their victims every day, 24 hours a day, with no safe place for the victim to get away.

Victims of cyberbullying can be reached any time and any place. They can experience heightened anxiety, fear and embarrassment because they do not know the source and have no way to retaliate.

Bullies are encouraged in that about 50 percent of children are online most of the time without adult supervision. The anonymity on the Web is what makes the cyber attacks so cutting and offensive.

What can parents do? One important thing parents should do is to supervise their children’s cell phone and Internet usage. That means actually looking at their cell phone messages and Internet history. It means don’t let your child close their bedroom door when they are online. Parents should also talk with their kids about Internet safety and consider software that records instant messages. It’s a good idea to block Internet sites you think are inappropriate.

If you want some more great information about cyberbullying, go to www.isafe.org. If you suspect your teen is a victim, please contact your school administrator or call the Pleasanton Police Department at 931-5100.

You can contact Officer Ken McNeill at 931-5233 or kmcneill@ci.pleasanton.ca.us.