While cyberbullying is now acknowledged in society, we still have a long way to go before we truly know how to deal with it. For example, most of us have yet to understand that cyberbullying is not the same as regular bullying and therefore should not be treated in the same way. According to Jennifer Shapka, associate professor in education at the University of British Columbia and presentor of a study on cyberbullying at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting in Vancouver, campaigns that focus on regular bullying may not necessarily work for cyberbullying.

In a study involving 17,000 Vancouver students in grades 8 to 12 and 733 Vancouver youths between ages 10 and 18, Shapka found that there were several key differences between cyberbullying and traditional bullying. The latter, for one, is all about power differentials. Popular students are usually the bullies in this case. Traditional bullying also involves a targeted victim and an ongoing aggression.

Cyberbullying, on the other hand, has no clear role assignment. Victims can be bullies or witnesses, and bullies and witnesses can be victims. That is, there is a lack of proactive victim targeting. In addition, many cyberbullies claim they're simply joking around. "Youth say that 95 percent of what happens online was intended as a joke and only five percent was intended to harm," Shapka says. "It is clear that youth are underestimating the level of harm associated with cyberbullying."

This information makes it even more important to acknowledge that cyberbullying can escalate to something more serious if students continue to underestimate its effects. Do you believe your children are victims of cyberbullying or are bullies themselves? Encourage your children to be open and honest with you. While you can't monitor their every move online, you can show them that you're ready to listen to their problems.

(Screencap from Cyberbullying courtesy of ABC)

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