Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Cyberbullying: Boys vs Girls

My guest post today is from Collett Smart of Family Smart. Collett provides positive solutions for families in all different areas.  

Collett has been working with children and their parents for almost 20 years and has had the unique opportunity of working with families on 3 continents, with a diversity of ages and cultures. She holds a Bachelor of Education degree, as well as an Honours Degree in Psychology with a specialisation in Special Needs and is currently completing her PhD.

Collett is a psychotherapist, keynote speaker, parenting expert and director of Family Smart. Collett provides counselling to children, adolescents and their families, both in private practice and as a school counsellor. Her Life Skills workshops cover various topics and are aimed at mental health professionals, teachers, parents and teens. Collett assists both schools and families embrace the positive aspects of living in a cyber era, while also providing resilience building strategies for dealing with the negative effects of online behaviour.

One of her posts that I found really informative and wanted to share with you is this one on Cyberbullying. In this article, Collett talks about how cyberbulling effects boys and girls differently, and provides some great, practical tips for parents. I hope you enjoy it, and go visit Collett and learn more about her work at Family Smart.

We all know that some of the most common places that youth currently spend time online are Facebook, MSN, Twitter and online gaming. Let’s look today at the ‘who does what, where and when of cyber-bullying.’ Just as boys and girls experience play-ground bullying differently, online bullying will be different too. So, whether you believe more in nature or  nurture or some of each, I can not deny the differences that I see every day in the interaction between the boys and girls that I work closely with.
What Get’s Guys?Maggie Hamilton, who we at Collective Shout have the privilege of spending time and talking through social issues with, has written a book on boys (What’s happening to our Boys?) that I would highly recommend to parents and schools. According to Maggie,  ‘It’s easy for tech-savvy kids to cover their tracks in cyberspace. By using temporary email accounts and adopting a different online name, they can be anonymous.’ Boys want to be popular so the lines become blurred in terms of how they behave in order that they do not become the victim. They say and do things they may not be comfortable with.
Boys tend to spend time online for many reasons, some of these include the need for information, to combat loneliness, boredom, the experience of power, status and dominance. Boys often enjoy interactive games that provide a sense of adventure. Aggressive games are often used when a boy has a need to experience power and dominance, due to personal issues or being bullied elsewhere. Also normalization of violence (seeing it too often) could be the case, creating a vicious cycle. 
Boys and social sitesDue to the fact that the teenage years can be a tumultuous time in terms of self-esteem and social issues, many boys may create a facebook page (which is also a wonderful way of connecting with peers). Boys may be tempted to accept friendship requests from anyone who sends one, without realising that others may be sending the request purely for malicious reasons (to see what the boy is doing to use against him later, use some of his photos or post unkind comments on his page), Maggie also warns that boys are now experiencing sexual harassment from teen girls in terms of sexualised photos, messages or other images being sent to them. This is also a form of bullying. Our beautiful boys have testosterone pumping through their bodies more than any other time in their lives and so I often ask parents of girls to assist their girls to consider how on earth these boys are to cope with this sexual bombardment? A mum told Maggie Hamilton that this girl was ‘messing with his head’. No-one should be forced to do anything they don’t want to do!

Gaming and bullyingAs Maggie also found, boys get together to plan vicious attacks on someone else in a game. World of Warcraft is known to be a particularly addictive type game, as boys play in teams and they do not want to be offline and let down the team. Boys are often kicked off the team if they have not been online to play and are criticised online if their playing skills are not up to scratch. They are also pressured to play in the middle of the night when ‘the team’ is playing against other countries who are in daylight hours. Germany, I have been told by boys, is one of the strongest online gaming countries. Boys lose track of time and they don’t want to be the first ones to take a break and appear weak.

Even primary aged boys have had issues with Club Penguin (which is actually quite a safe site, initially developed by parents), where students have come to school and been told by friends that they have been deleted off of their mates ‘friend list’. This can seem really insignificant to adults, but to young children, where these games are part of their play-ground language, it can be devastating. For an adult it would be like arriving to work and being told they were not welcome to sit with co-workers at a lunch social.
Many parents can also not understand why teens do not just turn off their mobiles or computers to get away from the issues, but for this generation of children they feel cut-off from the world. It would be like asking them to take out an eye!
Again from personal experience these are a few of the actual quotes that boys have given me on the discussion of online gaming (unedited):
  • in a speech bubble it said you “suck you new one”
  • on Club Penguin I went to the Pizza Plaza and there was a mean person calling me names. eg. loser
  • 2 personal to say
  • Bullied alot of times too many to remember on xbox games and internet, but i just normally block them or just hope they go away
  • emails send to try and scare me and worry me
Mean GirlsFor my teens in ‘Girl World’, the term for bullies is ‘Mean Girls’ (Yes, from the movie).
Girls I spend time with each week all talk to me about their cyber relationships as a natural part of their conversation and daily experiences. It is their world, their language! They tell me all about their ‘two hour conversations’ online from the night before. It is just like when we as adults used to chat on the phone for hours on end (to our parents frustration). The difference on social networking sites, is that girls can talk in groups together. A few reasons why girls tend to spend time online are for:  Support (after a bad day or fight with a sibling), Friendship, Relationship, Romance (who is that new cute guy?), a complaint  mechanism (about parents, teachers, boys or friends), to combat loneliness by finding others online to chat to, to increase  self-esteem by feeling as though they have many (Facebook) friends.

One terrible place in cyber space currently is Formspring, which is similar to a Twitter account but is used to post comments on another person’s profile. The issue here is that Formspring is anonymous and has become used predominantly for slander. So, youth are going to school the next day not knowing who the ‘mean girl’ comment was from.Some of my own students wrote:

  • on a website called ‘formspring.me’. people were saying bad things about me
  • this girl was swearing to me
  • my sister was on the internet and a boy was very unkind to her
Sometimes girls get carried away in the anonymity of the issue and taunt victims in vicious ways. This can be witnessed in the recent report by A Current Affair where the police thought they were tracking a paedophile on Facebook and it turned out to be a 12 year old girl… Cyber-bullying occurs all over the world, anywhere with access to technology. There are numerous reports of cyber-bullying in the UK, New ZealandSouth Africa and the USAYouth Beyond Blue talks about cyber-bullying being a key factor in Youth Depression and anxiety. Another article on depression and cyber-bullying is seen here.
EmpowermentHow do we help our children to maintain a skill with cyber space but ensure they develop appropriate boundaries and  the social skills to go with this? How can we as parents or educators ensure there are boundaries at home?
I am certainly not the only person who says this but WHERE IS THE HOME COMPUTER PLACED? Many Psychologists and Cyber experts No.1 piece of advice is to get the computer and all technology OUT of the child’s bedroom. Experts include UK psychologist Dr Tanya Byron, Australian psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and leading expert and policewoman Susan McLean.
This is one area I don’t mince words, as I have seen too many issues with students with this! Technology should be in a public space where family will be passing frequently and parents can monitor their children’s access and even body language (we all know when a child feels uncomfortable or looks upset). DS consoles and mobile phones should be switched off and also kept in a common place out of bedrooms at night. This will ensure that t(w)eens are getting enough sleep. I only recently heard a story of a 7 year old boy going to a friend’s house and setting their alarms for 3am to get up and play DS. The mum was horrified! And then we wonder why children are irritable, aggressive and struggling in school!
The 3 best things (which I elaborate on in my seminars) you can do to remain empowered as a family are: 
  • KEEP COMMUNICATING e.g Have a family ‘cyber contract’
Rachel Simmons recommends books to open up communication on bullying. Emotional Intelligence is imperative for boys, but it needs to be taught! It gives our boys skills to deal with difficult situations. Talk about as many possibilities as you can and how they would handle it for a friend.
Do NOT threaten to ban their use if something happens! (or they will not come to you again) Let’s remember to praise our children for being brave enough to come to us.
  • KEEP CHECKING e.g Monitor your child’s online presence and maintain transparency – No Spying.
Just as I was about to upload this blog post, I was alerted to a fantastic and brand new site by Vodafone. ‘Curethebullies has been developed by kids, for kids and is a fun, interactive awareness-raising campaign that focuses on a new approach to the issue – by targeting the ‘bystander’ (kids who may witness bullying behaviour, or even act as an accomplice).’ This can again be used as a great communication tool.
                          Above all – Be PREPARED and Keep Talking!Please be aware that this series has by no means been exhaustive of content and information available and I will continue to bring new content to this blog as it comes up!Here is the link to my post on ‘Sexting’ called, ‘Sexting – what’s all the fuss about?’
If there is anything specific you would like to know that I have not covered, please contact me on collett@familysmart.com.au and I would be happy to assist.
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