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Dissecting Cyberbullying: An Interview with Dr. Justin W. Patchin


Cyberbullying is a significant problem that can be stopped in its tracks if the right kind of actions are taken at the right time. It is a form of violence where the perpetrator doesn’t realize the magnitude of the damage they’re doing, and the victim has troubling finding their voice to speak against it. Cyberbullying can cause a plethora of problems for young adolescents, however, it is not something that cannot be contained and dealt with.

Mobistealth sat down with Dr. Justin W. Patchin, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center to talk about the issue at hand. Dr. Patchin is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he’s authored several books outlining how to deal with cyberbullying. In this interview he talks to Mobistealth about the steps that both parents and teachers can take to ensure that the teens attached to them develop in a positive environment, free of cyberbullying.

You can listen to the entire interview here:

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The complete transcript of the interview can be read here:

Justin Patchin: Morning, this is Justin.

Mobistealth: Hi there, thank you for joining Mobistealth for this interview. How are you?

Justin Patchin: Not too bad, how about yourself.

Mobistealth: I’m good, should I just start with the questions?

Justin Patchin: Sure.

Mobistealth: There are two forms of bullying that we want to discuss basically. There is the physical thing that happens on ground in schools, and then there is cyber bullying itself. Which do you think is more harmful? 

Justin Patchin: Well, it depends on the type and it depends on the person, and then it depends on what’s happening. It depends on the person who is experiencing these things. We see examples where the psychological, relational, emotional [impact] of bullying is carried out. Using technology can be just as harmful if not worse for some teens, whereas, the in person face-to-face stuff is pretty bad for others. It really depends a lot on what exactly is being done and who is being affected.

Mobistealth: In a situation where, for instance, a picture goes much further than a conversation does, wouldn’t you say that it’s much worse than physical bullying?

Justin Patchin: Depends. What if you’re beat up and physically assaulted and, you know, tormented physically. That’s a lot more hurtful than a picture. That’s more harmful than a picture.

Mobistealth: Educators have been trying to deal with cyber bullying and they’ve come up short in terms of options. Why do you think they’re having trouble dealing with the situation?

Justin Patchin: Right. Educators need to be more educated about the problem so that they can respond to it more effectively. Just this idea that they are concerned and they don’t know the extent to which they can get involved in cases, incidents that are initiated or carried out away from school. Some believe that they can’t get involved in those kind of cases and of course they can. They can get involved in anything that results in a substantial distraction in the learning environment at school and infringes on the rights of other students, at least in the United States. A part of my work involves educating them about the standards and talking about what they can do in these kind of situations.

Mobistealth: Do you think there should be stricter laws against cyberbullying?

Justin Patchin: Not really. I don’t think so. I think the vast majority of cyberbullying cases can and should be handled informally by parents, schools, and the community at the local level. I think if a case does rise to the level where a criminal response is necessary we already have laws on the books to handle those kind of situations; such as harassment, or stalking, or felonious assault, or hate speech and things like that. I’d hate to criminalize the behavior even further.

Mobistealth: But aren’t laws generally not as strict for minors?

Justin Patchin: Yes, and no, I mean that is true across the board. I don’t think the laws are less strict but the punishments usually are reduced because of the diminished capacity of minors to understand the consequences of the behavior. That is true but certainly in Unites States we have a number of mechanisms for cases, where if the behavior of a juvenile is believed to rise to the level of an adult, and we have that level of sophistication, that can be tried in the adult court and therefore receive the same sentences.

Mobistealth: What steps do you think educators can actually take to minimize the impact of the damage that cyberbullying causes?

Justin Patchin: I think again it goes back to educating the students; so talking and having educators talk with their own students about cyber bullying and the consequences for the victim,the target or the person who is engaging in those behaviors and then ultimately gets punished. In my work I find that a lot of kids doing the behaviors don’t realize that what they are doing is so harmful and I think they need to be aware of that and then some perspective of the target, those who are being victimized need to understand how to get help. Hopefully they have adults in the school that they can trust that will help them get the behavior to stop.

Mobistealth: What are some substantial red flags for parents? Or symptoms that point towards a bullied teen?

Justin Patchin: I think it’s tough because the standard answer to that question is that you should look for abnormal behavior, but of course abnormal behavior is sort of a hallmark to adolescence. I think it’s one of those things where educators and parents and other adults that work with youth have to use their intuition and their knowledge of particular students, and they can tell if something is wrong and something is not right. When behaviors change, when friendships seem to change rapidly, especially if it relates to cyber bullying then when online behavior patterns change; so you have a student who is regularly online but suddenly doesn’t want to have anything to do with technology there might be a problem. But you know it all comes down to caring adults and watching over kids and talking to them and hopefully developing that relationship, that communication avenue, so that hopefully kids will confide in them when something does happen.

Mobistealth: But parents don’t generally know patterns – online trends and patterns – when it comes to their teens. How is a parent supposed to follow up on that?

Justin Patchin: Let me give you an example: if your child typically gets home from work or from school and are typically on Facebook for three hours a day and all of a suddenly they don’t want to have anything to do with Facebook or they are constantly texting and now they don’t want anything to do with their cell phone, then clearly there is something is going on. So it opens an opportunity for parents to talk to their kids, or educators to talk to their students if they notice these kind of different behaviors… to just ask them what’s going on and to maybe talk about other incidents that might have happened whether it’s locally, nationally, or worldwide. You know… cyberbullying incidents… and ask them if these kind of things happen in our school. Hopefully that will open up the opportunity to start a conversation about cyber bullying and hopefully that will allow students to come forward. The reality is that a lot of kids are afraid to confide in an adult because they are afraid that it will make matters worse and that the parents are going to respond by taking away the technology instead of stopping the bullying. The onus is really on adults to respond to these problems more effectively so that our kids are willing to talk with us about what they are experiencing.

Mobistealth: Are there any actions that parents can take digitally to ensure that their teens are safer?      

Justin Patchin: Yes, and no. A lot of it depends on the stage that the child is at with regards to online behaviors and interactions and there is no piece of software which one can put on a machine to prevent these things from happening. We don’t think it’s a good idea to employ cell phone tracker software for example because of two things. First of all, we don’t think it is effective because students will move to other devices or use the computer at the library at the school or at a friend’s house, and secondly, if you’re surreptitiously monitoring the behavior of your child online, eventually you’re going to find something which you need to confront them about and when you do, they are pretty much never going to tell you anything ever again. It’s going to damage the relationship so much that it’s going to be hard for there to be a trusting relationship where your kid will talk to you about stuff. It’s very risky to utilize technological solutions. Not only are they risky, but they’re messy and in many cases ineffective.

Mobistealth: In our experience some single parents use tools and apps to keep a close check on their teens because they can’t help it. In such cases do you think parents are left with no course of action other than using tools like these?

Justin Patchin: Yes, one can develop a communication relationship with their child so that they understand that there are certain appropriate and inappropriate behaviors online and when you can monitor the behaviors of your child online, sort of physically, you don’t need an app for that. Just check in on them, check what they are doing, check who they are texting. You can see that on their cell phone bills and check the history of their computer. If you do that, it’s very important that you tell them. I don’t think monitoring software’s that effective because a) you are going to find something and you’re going to have to consult them about it, and b) if they are going to get around it, they’re going to get around it. They are going to use another device.

Mobistealth: What do you think are immediate psychological problems that kids can face because of cyberbullying?

Justin Patchin: Well we’ve seen a gamut. We’ve seen anger, frustration, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation and so we’ve done quite a bit of work on that and I encourage you to check out our website where we’ve written quite a bit of research that has been associated with these kind of responses.

Mobistealth: What do you think are the long term problems that they might end up with?

Justin Patchin: It’s difficult to say because technology has not been around for that long, right? So, if we are talking really long term like 20 or 30 years, then we haven’t really seen the consequences there, that remains to be seen. We do see long term consequences of traditional bullying and you know distrust in relationships and other problem behaviors, and low self esteem. It would lead one to believe that these would also exist from cyber bullying as well.

Mobistealth: Cyber bullying is different, we agree there. You can’t just predict.

Justin Patchin: Yes, it’s still pretty early.

Mobistealth: Alright, thank you so much Dr. Patchin for the valuable time and information that you’ve provided us today.

Justin Patchin: Good talking  with you and I wish you the best of luck.

Mobistealth: Thank you, good bye

Justin Patching: take care.