July 7, 2013
Social media technology has made it easier than ever for teens to stay connected with each other. It has also made bullying easier. Consider the story of Brandon Turley, as recently report by CNN. In sixth grade, he didn’t have friends. He would often eat alone at lunch, having recently switched to his school without knowing anyone. One day, while browsing MySpace, he saw that someone from his school had posted a message visible to multiple people stating that Turley was a “fag.” Students he had never even spoken with had commented on the post, saying they agreed.
Unsure of what to do and upset, Turley wrote in the comments, asking why his classmates would say that. The response was even worse. He was told on MySpace that a group of 12 kids wanted to beat him up, that he should stop going to school and die. On his walk from his locker to the school office to report what was happening, students yelled things like “fag” and “fatty.”
“It was just crazy, and such a shock to my self-esteem that people didn’t like me without even knowing me,” said Turley, now 18 and a senior in high school in Oregon. “I didn’t understand how that could be.”
“Cyber bullying” is defined as a young person tormenting, threatening, harassing, or embarrassing another young person using the Internet or other technologies, like cell phones.
Studies done on cyber bullying underscore the fact that it is widespread. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics calls cyber bullying the “most common online risk for all teens.” Statistics compiled by DoSeomething.org show that:
- Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.
- 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online.
- Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying.
- 68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem.
- 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person.
- 90% of teens who have seen social-media bullying say they have ignored it. 84% have seen others tell cyber bullies to stop.
- Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
- Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
- About 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out 10 say it has happened more than once.
- About 75% have visited a website bashing another student.
- Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.
Cyber bullying can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Also, once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the pain of cyber bullying.
Many cyber bullies think that bullying others online is funny. However, cyber bullies may not realize the consequences of these activities for themselves and their families. The things teens post online now may reflect badly on them later when they apply for college or a job. Cyber bullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts for cyber bullying. Also, cyber bullies and their parents may face legal charges for cyber bullying, and if the cyber bullying was sexual in nature, the results can include being registered as a sex offender. Teens may believe that if they use a fake name they won’t get caught. But there are many ways to trace the true identity of someone who is bullying over the Internet.
- Talks to teens about cyber bullying, explaining that it is wrong and can have serious consequences. Make a rule that teens may not send mean or damaging messages, even if someone else started it, or suggestive pictures or messages or they will lose their cell phone and computer privileges for a time.
- Encourage teens to tell an adult if cyber bullying is occurring. Tell them if they are the victims they will not be punished, and reassure them that being bullied is not their fault.
- Teens should keep cyber bullying messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring. The teens’ parents may want to talk to the parents of the cyber bully, to the bully’s Internet or cell phone provider, and/or to the police about the messages, especially if they are threatening or sexual in nature.
- Try blocking the person sending the messages. It may be necessary to get a new phone number or email address and to be more cautious about giving out the new number or address.
- Teens should never tell their password to anyone except a parent, and should not write it down in a place where it could be found by others.
- Teens should not share anything through text or instant messaging on their cell phone or the Internet that they would not want to be made public – remind teens that the person they are talking to in messages or online may not be who they think they are, and that things posted electronically may not be secure.
- Encourage teens never to share personal information online or to meet someone they only know online.
- Keep the computer in a shared space like the family room, and do not allow teens to have Internet access in their own rooms.
- Encourage teens to have times when they turn off the technology, such as at family meals or after a certain time at night.
- Parents may want to wait until high school to allow their teens to have their own email and cell phone accounts, and even then parents should still have access to the accounts.
Cyber bullying can have long lasting consequences. A recent study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry suggests that bullying victims showed greater likelihood of agoraphobia, where people don’t feel safe in public places, along with generalized anxiety and panic disorder. People who were both victims and bullies were at higher risk for young adult depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia among females, and the likelihood of suicide among males. Those who were only bullies showed a risk of antisocial personality disorder.
Technology has made bullying easier and more pervasive. Putting a stop to bullying – whatever its form – requires a community effort from parents, teachers and especially kids themselves. Not doing so imperils the health of our children and our society.