Many parents in Chicago, Illinois, may view bullying as an unfortunate but fairly normal part of growing up. Unfortunately, many parents fail to realize bullying can have severe consequences, especially when young people turn to new forms of harassment, such as cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is not uncommon. Research from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire suggests one in four students experience cyber bullying, and in the last month, one in ten have been victims of this type of bullying. Even if cyber bullying is indirect, it can be at least as harmful to teens as other forms of bullying.

Understanding cyber bullying

Cyber bullying consists of harassing, threatening or intimidating someone through electronic media. Cyber bullies may use texts, e-mails, instant messages and social media activity to reach their victims. These attacks can be especially painful because victims do not know when to expect them; they can come at any time, in any setting where the victim has Internet access. The anonymity of the Internet may also embolden bullies to be even harsher than they would in person.

Parents may think cyber bullying is less harmful than in-person bullying, since there is no immediate threat of physical violence. However, cyber bullying appears to have even worse effects on teenagers than direct bullying. An analysis by one Michigan State University professor shows that, compared to victims of other forms of bullying, victims of cyber bullying were more likely to skip school and contemplate suicide.

Taking action

Cyber bullying may be one of the simpler forms of bullying to document, since online activity can provide evidence of the bully’s actions. Victims can save posts, messages and e-mails to serve as evidence even after the bully deletes the original message or post. Although some cyber bullies may think their actions are anonymous, most online activity can be traced.

Illinois has enacted a bullying prevention law requiring schools to prevent bullying during school, at school events and through school networks or computers. Schools must maintain policies on bullying, including cyber bullying, and update those policies every two years. Schools have the power to take disciplinary action against students even if bullying occurs during personal time. Schools that fail to prevent bullying may be held liable.

A victim may also take action directly against a bully. In the tragic event that a child commits suicide because of bullying, the parents may file a wrongful death lawsuit. When a child has suffered emotionally or sustained personal injuries as the result of bullying, there may be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. Through one of these lawsuits, a family may win compensation to help them deal with medical expenses and emotional distress resulting from the bullying.