Cyberbullying: Are you just as brave in person?

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Social media’s roll in cyberbullying

Physical bullying has existed since the dawn of man and has had many tragic victims. Cyberbullying has been on a meteoric rise with the advent of each new piece of social technology. While it is still lagging behind physical bullying, this isn’t a metric we want to see growth in.

The ability to harass people anonymously just makes it worse. Facebook will allow you to create a page, hide behind secrecy and pretty much go crazy harassing people. This isn’t just children, but adults are doing it as well.

Most of these people are cowards in person. It’s the safety of distance and anonymity that makes them brave. What is even worse is when the parents step in and help their kid bully, this has happened to my children, so I’m all too familiar with the pathology.

As many as 25 percent of teenagers have experienced cyberbullying at some point, said Justin W. Patchin, who studies the phenomenon at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He and colleagues have conducted formal surveys of 15,000 middle and high school students throughout the United States, and found that about 10 percent of teens have been victims of cyberbullying in the last 30 days.

The methods and channels available to bully someone are nearly endless, from topic based chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, text, Skype, Google hangouts, the list goes on and on. I want to focus on the cyberbullying of children and what some of the things are we can do as parents, especially if you’re not super tech savvy or just simply too busy to deal with all the manual ways you can do it.

First let me relate a cyberbullying story that happened with one of my kids a couple years ago in middle school. She was moping around and spending far too much time in her room, so when she went to sleep, I’d check the text messages on her phone and Facebook messaging, and I was finding things I wasn’t happy about at all.

A group of boys were trying to convince her that all the girls she knew had had sex already (this is 13 year olds) to try and get her to have sex so she’d get pregnant and get in trouble. They were constantly sending sexually explicit and mocking messages at her and trying to tear her self esteem down so she would relent.

As a single dad with sole custody and a mom that wasn’t any help, this was very tough.

She didn’t feel comfortable talking about this to me, I gave her every opportunity by providing leading questions, but she wouldn’t break, fortunately she didn’t break to the bullying either, but her texts to her friends were taking on a potentially self destructive tone as the bullies wore her down. I got the school involved at this point and they asked her to show the messages and they disciplined the boys and everything started to die down.

During the course of this, I was investigating all sorts of intervening options, from software to  manual sleuthing, and I tried a few. I found mirroring software for the computers so I could log or watch in real time what was happening. I found apps for the phones that would echo all the texts to a website that I could then login to and review. Then there were keyloggers to allow me to get passwords to get in to various applications. An obvious problem here is the amount of work, but also, how much privacy do we allow our children as concerned parents?

My rule of thumb has been to do random checks unless I’m seeing a sudden change in behavior. Then I check enough to establish what is going on and see if I can coax the information out of my kids without them knowing that I’ve been snooping, because then they will shut right down.

After all that research and hand wringing, I narrowed it down to one called “Web Watcher”. It runs on virtually everything, Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone and even BlackBerry. This combined all the various things I’d been doing, keylogging, text mirroring, email and instant messaging monitoring, etc. This app really has it all, including Alert Word Notification, which is perfect if you’re worried about certain types of conversations, the app will even take a screenshot and highlight the word so you can easily see it.



Your biggest challenge is going to be to control yourself to only pay attention to the items that are issues and not intrude entirely in your kids lives. It is better they be mad at you and alive, than enjoy full privacy and potentially dead.

Shawn Gordon founded The, a leading developer of commercial software and open source development on Linux for many years. He also founded ProgRock Records, a leading record label in the Progressive Rock community with over 100 artists. He's spent years building products and solutions, all the while writing over 100 articles for various magazines covering software reviews, programming tips, interviews and music piracy.