One topic of importance making the news in recent times is the issue of cyberbullying. The Cyberbullying Research Center defines cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” This is most easily described as the texting or messaging of a derogatory or harassing nature. This is not exactly new, since I recall people typing “you’re a fag!” or telling me how the various ways they were going to beat me up in the chat rooms back in the early 90’s, when AOL was still top dog. However, it has come to light that cyberbullying may have more far-reaching and serious consequence than had be known of previously. These include depression, school violence and even suicide.
The Cyberbullying Research Center published some findings from a study in June of 2007 performed in a large southern school district. From a sample of 2000 participants (ages 11-16), they found that although less than 10% actually reported being cyberbullied in the previous 30 days, 43% experienced behavior that could be deemed cyberbullying: an email or text, an instant message or a posting that made them upset. 23% admitted to posting something derogatory about someone else to make people laugh. They also found that victims of cyberbullying had significantly lower self-esteem than non-victims. The question to be asked is: does cyberbullying cause lower self-esteem or do people with lower self-esteem get targeted for cyberbullying?
Researchesr Hinduja and Patton found some interesting results in a recent study. They separated types of bullying into two distinct types: traditional or use of physical and verbal aggression, and non-traditional or use of electronic media such as texts or wall posts. They found that perpetrators of non-traditional bullying were likely to participate in traditional bullying as well. This speaks dimly for the state of violence in our schools and neighborhoods.
In my opinion, cyberbullying can be exponentially worse than tradional violence. Consider this, reader. A bully is likely to terrorize a person a few hours a day: lunch, in the hallways or after school. The internet is always there, spreading rumors, displaying pictures and when a person logs on a letter could always be waiting. Humiliation becomes a public event; a spectacle. Recently I was shocked to find a Facebook page entitled “That Weird Guy That’s Always at The Meridon Mall.” This page is dedicated to documenting and photographing a guy who is somewhat eccentric in dress. People laughing about seeing him and how he goes about his day. I was entirely disgusted and wondered if this man knew about this page, how he would react. How worse could this have been if he were an insecure 14 year old. As of the writing of this article, over 8 thousand people are fans. So what can actions like this do to a person?
On June 10th, 2010 3AW Radio in Australia published an account of a young man by the name of Sam Porter who leapt onto some train tracks to pull a 16 yr old boy off train tracks. Apparently, Sam managed to prevent a suicide attempt. The 16 year old had recently been the victim of a cyberbullying campaign via Facebook which culminated in a physical bashing in Gardenvale Train Station. This boy’s life was saved and he is undergoing counseling but this is often not the case.
In an article from Reuters printed on Canada.com, John Halligan spoke of his 13 year old son who committed suicide in 2003. “He was continually harassed about being potentially gay.” John didn’t even know the extent to which his son was being bullied until it was too late and his son Ryan dead. “He was trying to manage the situation on his own, which a lot of these kids do, tragically,” he said. “I never anticipated that his peers would become such a danger to him.” John Halligan was later successful in helping pass an anti-bullying law in the state of Vermont. However, there are still states with no such laws.
John Halligan now speaks around the country to kids and parents about cyberbullying. His advice? Turn off that computer, often. Sit down and talk to your children about what is going on in their lives. Give them opportunities to express themselves and what they might be feeling. Why is this so important though? Isn’t suicide just a rare occurrence? Recently Hinduja and Patchin performed a study among 2000 students and found that suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide was higher among victims of aggression than among those who had not. In addition, victimization was more likely to be related to suicidal ideation than among the bullies. These findings only underscore the need for parents and schools to respond to the crisis of bullying.
Cyberbullying is a very real and very significant threat. As you can see, it is affecting people today in a very virtual way. Our children, our friends and our future are being hurt by this. What are you going to do? I ask you to stand up and ask your state legislators to support our children by passing anti-bullying legislation if your state does not have one. Talk to your kids about bullying, both online and off, and how they can deal with it effectively. Don’t live on in ignorance like John Halligan did, only to wake up tomorrow one child fewer in your home.
Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (in press). Traditional and nontraditional bullying among youth: A test of general strain theory. Forthcoming in Youth and Society
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (in press). Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Forthcoming in Archives of Suicide Research.