The digital world has become a haven for cyberbullying—bullying that takes place with the help of smartphones and computers and via methods including email, social media and text messaging. What's more surprising is how widespread this behavior has become—and the gravitational effect it has on children who might otherwise not be part of the bullying process. While parents may think they understand how modern bullying works, their kids beg to differ.
A study from wiredsafety.org found that most parents believe they understand the ins and outs of digital bullying. However, when the group asked 13,000 kids—in grades six and under—if their parents did, in fact, get it, only 23 percent said they did.
"I think kids are bullying more in the digital world," said Parry Aftab, founder of wiredsafety.org and an expert in cyberbullying. "It has greater impact because you have more people tuning in to see. ... When we start using digital technology, you lose a lot of humanness of this. You lose a lot of the real emotion behind it. There's a lack of understanding of consequences."
(Read more: When humans and technology merge)
Digital bullying occurs in an ever-growing number of ways. It could be a barrage of harassing or insulting text messages, a rumor posted to Twitter, embarrassing pictures forwarded to social circles or posted online, or fake Facebook pages made in a child's name and loaded with embarrassing or untrue information.
A recent wiredsafety study of students in high schools and middle schools in Canada found 70 percent of teens saying they had been digitally bullied in the past six months; 92 percent felt it was getting worse.
"When a rumor would happen in a schoolyard before, it would spread and take a bit of time to do that, changing a bit along the way, or someone would stop it. That doesn't happen today," said Barbara Coloroso, who has spent the past 38 years consulting on bullying and is author of "The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander." "When virtual and real worlds are merged for our young people, we now have social assassination done online. ... [And] bullying can happen under the radar of adults."