'Mean Girls' a bigger threat in cyber space than in real world

The tragic story of Rebecca Ann Sedwick is not something that parents, particularly of young girls will be forgetting anything soon. The Floridian girl committed suicide to escape the unrelenting cyberbullying allegedly perpetrated by two girls, aged 12 and 14. This is not the only incident where girls have perpetrated online abuse. Ask.fm, Facebook, Instagram, etc. have plenty of teenage girls committing unrelenting cyberbullying attacks, indicating that online bullying by the fairer sex is quite common. Intriguingly, they tend to exhibit a different behavior in real-world, avoiding confrontations and worrying about their reputation. This inconsistency in their behavior has not gone unnoticed by the researchers and holds significant relevance in the search for answers to how to prevent cyberbullying.

Girls are more prone towards cyberbullying

A study on youth engaging in online harassment has revealed that girls are more likely to engage in Internet bullying than traditional bullying. The possible reason for girls cyber bullying being more prevalent, as explained by the researcher, is that they feel more assertive and less inhibited in cyber space. For them, indirectly confronting their victim is a far more convenient option as it allows them to engage in relational aggression, a covert and manipulative method for bullying, dealing severe psychological damage to their victims. Internet also levels the field for them, making them feel empowered while allowing them to safeguard their personal interests such as their reputation among their peers and teachers.

How the mean girls typically operate

There are certain themes that are commonly observed in cyberbullying perpetrated by teenage girls. Quite often, their attacks seem to be well-planned, leaving very little room for the victims to fight back. Another thing that’s been noticed about their online bullying is that their attacks are mostly in form of words rather than pictures or videos. Typically driven by motives such as entertainment, jealousy and revenge, they bully their target by spreading rumors about them on social media, and attacking their appearance, intelligence or sexuality. Mostly the intention is to humiliate the victim in front of their social circle. However, sometimes, the online abuse may escalate to threats of physical violence.

How to prevent girls from engaging in cyberbullying

The issue of teenage girls perpetrating online bullying needs to be curbed and there is no one in a better position to do this than parents. For this, they need to educate themselves on cyberbullying, what it comprises of, how it’s carried out, and how to deal with it. Once they become well-versed on the problem, they need to begin their efforts to control and prevent it. For this, it’s important that they connect with their teenage girls more on daily basis. They need to teach them how to behave responsibly online and make them aware of the implications of online bullying for the victims. Installing a parental control software on their digital device can allow parents to keep a close eye on whether their young ones are abstaining from inappropriate behavior and conversations. If the daughter is discovered to be engaging in cyberbullying despite being told about its inappropriateness and danger, taking her to a therapist may help.

Considering the effects of cyberbullying which can range from anger and frustration to depression and even suicide, as was seen in the case of Sedwick, it is imperative that parents give the issue due importance. The threat is not any less dangerous than traditional bullying or and the factor of gender is of little relevance.

 

Source: Ybarra, M. L. & Mitchell, J. K. (2004). Youth engaging in online harassment: associations with caregiver-child relationships, Internet use, and personal characteristics. Journal of Adolescence, 27(3), 319-336.

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