THE BLOG
10/30/2014 05:30 pm ET | Updated Dec 30, 2014

It's Revealed: Cyberbullying and Online Cruelty Is Not Only Child's Play

Izabela Habur via Getty Images

PEW Research released their first study on Adult Online Harassment. We have seen many reports about adult bullying in the workplace, however there has yet to be a study that provides us with information on how an average adult deals with online peer cruelty. The cyber-bullets of grown-ups acting badly online can be devastating.

Although we can't diminish the need to continue to discuss youth bullying and cyberbullying, we also need to recognize the need to open up a dialogue about adults who are bullies and those who are targets of their online cruelty.

Pop-culture allows us to see that no one is immune to cyber-harassment. Renee Zellweger, after making some changes in her life, was a victim of what was labeled face shaming.

We can also understand why, back in August, we read about Jennifer Aniston limiting her outings due to Internet trolls.

June, typically month of weddings, is when Galit Breen, an amazing writer, wrote 12 Secrets Happily Married Women Know. As the PEW Research stated:

• 60 percent of Internet users said they have witnessed someone being called offensive names.
• 53 percent had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone.

Galit Breen knows this firsthand, as she instantly become a target of what was quickly labeled fat-shaming! This wasn't done by children, she was being criticized by grownups, likely her own peers. After publishing her wedding photos, people could only focus on her weight rather than her happiness. Is this the society we now live in?

Whether you are a celebrity or an average person, no one likes to be humiliated publicly. With the Internet, publicity has become worse than death for many people. An online smear campaign can literally destroy a person's career, business, ability to find employment, relationships -- not to mention their emotional health.

In this same month of National Bullying Prevention Awareness, we heard from Monica Lewinsky who has decided to let her voice help end cyberbullying.

Again, over a decade ago, it was adults that decided to take to Internet shaming. Although she has admittedly recognized her faults, did she deserve the public humiliation she endured? Does anyone? Especially when it is done by grown-ups that realistically should be the role models for our children. Did we have the right to judge her publicly?

I will be the first one to admit, we are all allowed to have opinions and free speech is fine, however when you cross the lines into cruel behavior you're admitting you are struggling with your own demons. Why do people feel the need to hurt others openly? What do they have to gain by making others feel small?

Could it be fear that they are not being recognized or losing control of a personal situation? Or as Emily Lindin put in her TEDx Talk, are they simply lacking confidence? She is someone that became a victim of slut shaming.

"We pretend it is only a problem for kids or teens and that it magically disappears once you reach a certain age but the truth is it doesn't. Many adults continue to bully each other and sometimes adults even bully kids and teenagers. It can happen for a variety of reasons, but it often comes down to the fact that they haven't discovered confidence." - Emily Lindin, The UnSlut Project

Parents fear that their kids won't win a dance competition or their teen won't make the varsity sports team. Coaches fear their teams won't make the playoffs. Teachers fear their students won't make the grade. Does this fear instill anger, stress, and potentially create an environment that is hostile towards others? Is this how bullying can start, through fear and jealously with grown-ups?

Finding the balance.

It's not a perfect world and we are human. There will always be times when there are heated debates on topics you feel strongly about, even if it is about your child's dance competition. However, you need to learn to find ways to responsibly accept the way things turn out, and be that role model your child needs you to be.

Constructive criticism sometimes takes time to learn. When it turns to cruelty, you know it has crossed the boundaries. Using the excuse that you are advocating for your child, or believing you are giving constructive advice with not-so-nice words will be quickly recognized and you will be labeled the difficult parent or nasty person.

Your actions will speak volumes to others. If there is a thread on social media about something you are passionate about and you strongly disagree with the trend or tone of the forum -- you have choices. You can nicely give your opinion, without disparaging anyone else's -- or remember, you can always click-out. There is no rule that you have to participate in every online debate.

PEW Research revealed that 60 percent of adults actually did choose to ignore online harassment while the 40 percent that responded did so in this manner:

• 47 percent actually confronted the person online
• 44 percent unfriended or blocked the person responsible
• 22 percent reported the person responsible to the website or online service

While some grown-ups are willing to do something about online harassment, it's still bothersome that many continue to inflict pain upon others through cyberspace.

Who would have guessed that a simple keystroke and a click of the mouse could cause so much harm?

Click here for the complete PEW Research for Adult Online Harassment.

Takeaway tips:

• Combat bullying through kindness, at all ages: Be a role model first!
• 25 percent of women are targets of online sexual harassment, learn more at The UnSlut Project.
Digital citizenship is not only about children. Grown-ups also need to learn social media netiquette.