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Bullying in the Palm of your Hand

Physical and verbal bullying have been around forever, and cyberbullying has become increasingly common since the dawn of the internet. Over the past decade, however, a special subtype of cyberbullying has grown exponentially – cellphone cyberbullying.


Kids are acquiring cellphones at a younger age, many even by middle school. It is estimated that about 9 in 10 teens has a cellphone, and of those with phones, 1 in 5 is bullied and 1 in 10 is a bully. To put that into perspective, for every 100 students, 9 are bullies and 18 are victims, meaning nearly 30% of students are part of the cycle of bullying. Worse yet, one study found that half of all victims of cyberbullying are also cyberbullies themselves.

Openet conducted a research study to further explore the statistics behind cellular cyberbullying. Heavy cellphone users (over 60 texts per day) constitute a quarter of cellphone users. These users are significantly more exposed to bullying as both a victim and a perpetrator.

Michael Manzo, CMO of Openet, says: “The proliferation of mobile access cuts both ways for teenagers. While this age group needs an effective way to communicate with parents and friends, mobile devices can also serve as a gateway to behavior that is damaging for both the victim and the perpetrator. While legislation against cyber-bullying, along with parental supervision, are a good start to preventing this activity, wireless carriers also bear a responsibility to help ensure that parents can monitor and control their children’s mobile phone access and usage.”

Cellphones allow access to texting, camera images/videos, emails, instant messaging, blogs, chat rooms, message boards, social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter), and apps (i.e. Snapchat, Yik Yak, Secret Camera, and Anonymous Texting) all of which can be misused for bullying. Embarrassing, hurtful, libelous, and even sexual content can be detrimental to a child’s social relationships, self-concept, and academic success. Such information travels school-wide and beyond so quickly, and since “what’s online, stays online,” it is essentially impossible to remedy. Not to mention, most cyberbullying takes the form of anonymous gossip. Children can use special apps, accounts with false names, and “pay-as-you-go over-the-counter” phones to hide their identity. Coupled with cellular encoding and the reluctance of service providers and lawmakers to help, cyberbullying is growing increasingly untraceable.

In many ways, cellular bullying is more damaging than traditional, in-person bullying.

  1. Victims have the ability to immediately, and non-confrontationally, retaliate, which prompts them to become bullies themselves.
  2. When bullies don’t go to the extreme lengths necessary to ensure anonymity, anything sent or posted can come back to haunt their reputation throughout their lives.
  3. The messages, images, and posts can haunt the victim lifelong, regardless of anonymity.
  4. All of the harm possible with traditional bullying is still possible. I recently posted a blog about the subtler warning signs of bullying, all of which still apply here.

What can be done? Most anyone would agree that it is the responsibility of ever school and every parent to fight against bullying, but there is seldom agreement on the solution. However, with these few simple tips, parents can help protect their children.

  • Teach your children not to engage in bullying
  • Explain what constitutes bullying and why it is wrong
  • Lay out consequences for inappropriate phone use
  • Instruct them not to send a message or post something that reflects negatively upon themselves or that they wouldn’t want someone else to post about them
  • Establish that if they are a victim, it isn’t their fault. They should alert someone, especially if the content is sexual.
  • Advise them to avoid using or checking their phone during school hours unless it’s necessary and to not accept calls, messages, or notifications from unknown numbers
  • Show them how to block numbers
  • Tell them to save all instances of cyberbullying received (texts, images, videos, etc.) as evidence.

Click here for more information and safety tips about cellular cyberbullying.

Any school event can become part of cyberbullying – including any instance of embarrassment or traditional bullying. Students sometimes record and share footage of incidents during recess. Check out my upcoming post about recess safety.

Mark Bello has practiced law for 40 years. He is currently the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company, and the author of the two legal thriller novels, Betrayal of Faith and Betrayal of Justice  (books available on major online book store sites).

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