Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
As Colleges Welcome Students Back, Will Your Student Be Safe?Suzanne Shaffer
People who think bullying is only a problem in grade school are gravely mistaken. While bullying does peak in middle and high school, it never goes away completely. This means many college students may be in for a rude awakening.
Hazing gets most of the headlines but cyberbullying is also a growing problem on American campuses. This type of bullying happens online and is more insidious and harder to escape from than physical bullying.
In one study, 22 percent of college students surveyed had experienced some form of cyberbullying while 38 percent knew someone who’d been cyberbullied. Additionally, nine percent of students polled admitted to having cyberbullied someone else.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised by these statistics. After all, college students are the most frequent users of digital technology and social media sites — the landscape of cyberbullying. Those most vulnerable to cyberbullying include college freshmen and students in the Greek system.
Can we predict who will become a cyberbully? Younger bullies who don’t experience negative consequences as a result of their behavior rarely learn to take responsibility for their actions. They may then carry on the same patterns of behavior in college, perhaps only becoming more subtle in their bullying. They aren’t as overtly aggressive as their grade school counterparts, although the main goal — intimidating and humiliating their victims — remains the same.
Both women and men are perpetrators. College-aged women often bully in an attempt to climb the social ladder and maintain their social status. Young men, on the other hand, bully to exert dominance — even to get revenge after being dumped.
Campus cyberbullying is especially prevalent on social media. Anonymity allows bullies to distance themselves from their actions. Furthermore, cyberbullying can easily be hidden from friends, peers and the administration, allowing it to go on virtually unchecked.
Some social media platforms rank higher than others when it comes to incidents of cyberbullying, with Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat topping the list.
Cyberbullies on these platforms engage in sexual harassment, posting degrading comments about their victims’ gender or sexuality or outing them. The latter form of cyberbullying involves sharing private information about the victim online — anything that’s likely to bring humiliation and embarrassment to the victim, e.g. revealing their sexual identity or releasing nude photos or private videos.
Any form of bullying in colleges presents unique challenges for a number of reasons:
If you have a student in college, or a high school senior heading in that direction soon, talk to them about bullying to raise their awareness and let them know that, even when distance separates you, you’re someone they can always turn to for support and advice.
The college community your student joins or is part of may include more diversity of backgrounds and opinions than your student is used to. Reflect on how essential it to treat everyone with respect, including people they don’t have much in common with. Encourage them to learn how to manage conflict by being assertive, confident and resilient.
Cyberbullying thrives when victims are afraid to speak out and stand up to the perpetrators. Encourage your college student to take positive steps to curb cyberbullying.
This includes gathering and recording as much evidence as they can, like screenshots, or printing out the hateful messages they receive. This will act as proof of cyberbullying. Other steps they can take include making their social media pages private, blocking the bullies and not responding or retaliating. In addition, they should report these incidences to student services, a trusted faculty member or administrator, or to campus security.
To reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation that victims of cyberbullying experience, encourage your student to join one of the many communities on campus. These can be sports clubs, cultural or social identity groups, student organizations, and many others. These groups give students a chance to connect with a community, make friends and feel more a part of the school as a whole.
Cyberbullying in college can have huge ramifications so it’s important to let our students know that they can and should speak out against it.