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Vengeful angels and mean girls

By Hazel Boltman - posted Thursday, 13 August 2009

Pick up a newspaper, a glossy teenage magazine, or turn on the television, and you are likely to find at least one reference to cyber bullying. As a teacher and parent, cyber bullying is of great personal concern. The school at which I teach - Brisbane Girls Grammar - views the potential for our students to be involved in cyber bullying either as the victim or the perpetrator as a very serious issue. We are constantly expanding our understanding, reviewing our programs to prevent bullying and making sure we are up-to-date with rapidly changing technologies and current best practice.

Despite the high level of public interest in this newest incarnation of a very old problem, most analyses are usually framed from the perspective of the victim, or on what constitutes cyber bullying. While important, greater focus needs to be placed on furthering our understanding of the bullies. If we, as teachers, parents and a society as a whole, are able to identify the underlying issues motivating the perpetrators, we will be able to target our interventions and more effectively prevent students from using technology to torment.

As cyber bullying is usually anonymous it can be very difficult to identify those responsible. The new age bully can appear vindictive when armed with technology and yet can be a charming, lovable person at the same time. One expert, cyber lawyer Parry Aftab, proposes that there are no “one size fits all” approaches to cyber bullying and divides cyber bullies into four types dependent upon their motives. She suggests that understanding and addressing the different motives of cyber bullies is the most effective approach.


The “Vengeful Angel” is one category into which many bullies fall. Not identifying as a bully, these students instead see themselves as an advocate for their own rights or the rights of others. The methods of bullying can include impersonation, outing (sharing their target’s secrets), tricking and exclusion. They may be driven to use a verbal attack on the computer in response to a perceived incident that took place earlier in the day or week.

Often, the students seeming to resemble this description honestly believe their actions are justified and see no harm in what they are doing. One way to prevent this problem is to continually remind all students that taking justice into their own hands is not appropriate or acceptable and that doing so can escalates the initial incident. Students should be encouraged to report the initial incident to teachers or talk to their parents to try to understand the underlying cause rather than fighting back.

The “Power Hungry” bully aims to exert one’s authority. Here the perpetrators can endeavour to rule by fear, attempting to elicit a reaction from their audience. The student can use flaming (online fights using instant messaging), harassment, denigration and cyber stalking, with the intent to belittle and publically humiliate other students.

Victims of the “Power Hungry” may not have bullied the perpetrator or even be bullies themselves, but can be socially dominant and forceful.

These students often feel emotionally insecure and concerned about their own status among their peers. As educators and parents we need to help these students to better understand why they are feeling as they do, that what they are doing is wrong and that there are other ways to deal with their negative feelings and manage their anger.

The “Mean Girls” category, typically involving female students, is predominately group-based. These students can be bored and looking for entertainment - usually at someone else’s expense. Their bullying is generally ego based and can be particularly immature. The bullying is often of an exclusionary nature or involves outing, tricking and impersonation. The methods of bullying used do not differ from that of the Vengeful Angel, but their motivations are very different. It is not done on an individual basis but as a group activity. The groups’ need for social position is a key influence in their lives and as a result the group is usually led by a powerful girl. The rest of the group often engage in the harassment to avoid being bullied themselves.


This type of bullying can involve a photograph of the target being uploaded onto a social networking site for what the bullies call a “prank”. It is becoming increasingly clear that it is vital for our children to understand that once a photograph, video or any other content is uploaded it is very difficult to remove all traces of it. Furthermore, if the image is of a sexual nature it is a criminal offence and as such the offender may be charged. It is important for educators to adopt strategies whereby they talk with students openly about group dynamics and empower students to be assertive and stand up for others when they see another student being targeted.

Students need to be carefully counselled about the short and long term implications of this type of bullying for both the bullies and their victims. Parents also need to demonstrate a deeper understanding behind the motivations for these interactions and seek advice from teachers on who best to prevent and manage it through their own actions and pastoral care provided by their child’s school.

Finally, the “Inadvertent” bully usually acts impulsively, neither planning nor intending harm. They may write in anger and click send or upload without thinking about the consequences. They may also take part in role playing games and choose to act as a tough character where they may not intend to be malicious, but still say hurtful things to others.

In my opinion, society’s best line of defence against cyber bullying is education. We need to continue to teach our children about all aspects of cyber bullying. While the validity and merit of Ms Aftab’s labelling of our youth in regards to cyber bullying can be argued, it does invite us to reflect upon the possible motivating factors contributing to students bullying their peers. There are many more emotional and developmental factors at play than are often first considered by adults who deal with teenage bullies. These need to be considered when developing strategies to help both the bullies and their victims to deal with this problem.

In order to thoroughly combat these invasive and harmful cyber bullying incidents educators and parents must work as a team. It is through continued discussion with each other and our children that we can raise awareness and help both the victims of cyber bullying and the bullies themselves. Becoming familiar with current technologies and trends, continuing interest in our children’s online lives and reflecting on the complexities of contributing factors towards both being a perpetrator and victim of cyber bullying offers the best possible chance of assisting younger generations to prevent, avoid and manage this concerning issue.

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First published on the Brisbane Girls Grammar website on May 25, 2009.

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About the Author

Ms Hazel Boltman is Head of Gibsons House at Brisbane Girls Grammar.

Related Links
Carnegie Mellon CyLab (20032009) My Secure cyberspace. Classroom, focus on cyber bullying
Willard, N. (2007, January). Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens, Cyber-Secure Schools

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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