Perhaps you read the last blog on cyberbullying and girls – so now, it’s time to take a look at boys in the online space. While cyberbullying happens to both girls and boys, there are some distinct trends that happen more within each gender grouping. Of course, that doesn’t mean the behaviours explored below happen only in the world of boys.

While the most recent research identifies that girls are three times more likely to report cyberbullying, this doesn’t mean that cyberbullying happens more to girls. When it comes to boys and cyberbullying, it’s a fact that they are less likely to report it for fear of being seen as weak and they are also often less likely to receive help which limits them from engaging in help seeking behaviours.

Complex years for tween boys in the online space

Tween and teen boys are curious creatures. With an enormous surge of testosterone in the (pre)adolescent years, not only do their bodies change, their attitude and behaviour changes rapidly too. This is often the age where the adorable, affectionate boy child disappears intermittently, only to be replaced by a forgetful, non-communicative and always hungry man-child. It’s also the age where the first stirrings of sexual interest are felt – which can lead to all sorts of high-risk behaviours online if careful monitoring and early education doesn’t happen.

While body image issues have always been thought of more relevant to girls, tween and teen boys are acutely aware of their bodies, with some lads growing and developing faster than others. In years past, boys viewing of other’s changing bodies was limited to the change room at school, however, now, boys have access to a range of workout videos showing well sculpted male bodies. This is often tough for the tween who is taking time to grow into his adult body and is often the focus of body/height-related cyberbullying by peers.

Boys and cyberbullying

While girls and boys both use the net to search, watch content and chat, in general, boys gravitate more towards the world of gaming and eSports, which brings its own language, level of chat interaction and competition.

The world of gaming for boys is highly addictive and often highly competitive. While first forays into online game play usually involve working together to build a world, as boys move into the tween years, first person shooter games rapidly become the favourite.

This is often the first point of cyberbullying that boys will experience and quite often engage in. These games sometimes require tweens to work together as a team, each member taking a different role, having different powers and abilities. Keeping in mind that surging testosterone increases competitiveness, then misplaying, losing loot, not making a move at the right time can lead to insults being traded and calls for players to ‘kill yourself’ or KYS to save the rest of the team. There’s a huge amount of blaming and shaming, name calling and ‘ganging up’ that can rapidly turn into heated and hurtful exchanges.

In chat forums, cyberbullying happens quite differently. Usually based around boasting, besting and one-upmanship, boys can engage in sharing of inappropriate images, spamming a particular child with these, sharing brutally homophobic insults, and insults about appearance, sporting or academic performance. In many, many instances, what starts as a bit of fun rapidly turns into a situation that has dealt enormous hurt and shame and gathered a host of followers.

There is some good news

Interestingly, boys are more likely to take the role of champion and upstanders than girls when they are witness to cyberbullying. Boys’ conflict often tends to be immediate, heated and more likely to be over quickly. Leaping into the role of protector leans into a boys’ nature without worrying too much about what other people think or holding onto the grudge for long periods of time. This is definitely something to explore more fully with boys when looking at approaches to dealing with cyberbullying.

Taking a stand against boys’ cyberbullying

Reports of cyberbullying happening to a boy are disregarded more often than reports made by a girl.  Cyberbullying of boys online is brutal and the feelings of shame and isolation that follow for boys is dangerous for their mental health and wellbeing.

Taking a stand against the cyberbullying that many boys experience requires a 4 part approach.

  1. Educate and upskill boys who are more likely to become victims of cyberbullying. Controlling angry emotions before spilling them out online, asking for help early in the piece even when they feel great shame, and learning how not to extend the interaction that the perpetrator is feeding off. It’s hard for boys to step away from a game for fear of missing out on moving up levels but we need to teach boys that cyberbullying that happens in these forums is not normal or to-be-expected. It is damaging behaviour that needs to be stopped, blocked and reported.
  2. Perpetrators of cyberbullying can get a heady rush for outsmarting and shaming someone. Teaching empathy, doing forward thinking with a trusted adult about where chosen actions might end up helps the boy prone to pushing online interactions too far to become aware much earlier of their impact.
  3. Education of the acolytes – in so many forums, a boy pack mentality exists and forms very quickly. ‘Egging on’ the perpetrator can be done knowing it’s wrong but without really thinking through the consequences. Every boy acolyte needs ongoing education about how their support is creating hurt and what the possible outcomes of that hurt might be.
  4. Education of the silent bystanders – these tweens and teens form the vast majority (thankfully) and they too need to learn their role in stopping cyber-bullying from extending. Moving from the position of bystander to upstander needs a good skill base including education about how to champion and protect someone without having to step directly into the firing line.

Early education is essential

The behaviour of boys online and offline is remarkably similar. What can start as a bit of fun can snowball rapidly, and then instead of losing face and backing down, real damaging blows can be dealt to finish the business at hand and come out on top.

It’s essential that a strong emphasis on empathy building and mapping out possible consequences for actions happens as part of a boy’s early cyber-education. So many boys, on being interviewed after a cyberbullying incident has occurred had not thought about where their interaction of engagement would end up.

DiGii Social is a carefully designed digital-life training platform just for tweens. It provides the opportunity to practise skills towards mastery before spending too much time on other social media platforms. DiGii Social is easy to use and available as a school subscription with a parent education channel included.

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