The truth about cyberbullying
As the number of households with Web access and cell phones increases, so too do the ways kids can bully each other.
By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
New technologies — cell phones with cameras, social-networking sites, and instant messaging — have been speedily embraced by teens and pre-teens alike. While these technologies provide easy access to information and make communication among family and friends easier, they also provide new platforms for kids to tease and torment each other.
Cyberbullying has become such a concern in some states that laws have been introduced to address it and school districts are establishing policies to combat it.
Face-to-face bullying, defined as repeated, abusive behavior toward another person, can be both physical and psychological. Cyberbullying, however, is purely psychological, and the repertoire of tactics used in cyberspace has grown over time to include these methods:
- Sending hate email messages
- Creating Web sites meant to humiliate a victim
- Forwarding private emails without permission
- Taking an embarrassing photo with a camera phone and posting it on the Internet
- Setting up polls on Web sites to vote on who's the fattest, ugliest, geekiest, or sluttiest kid in the school
Real-life cyberbullying looks like this:
- One classic example of cyberbullying is the case of a Canadian boy, now known as the Star Wars kid . A video tape of him pretending to be a Star Wars character was posted on the Internet without his knowledge or permission. The video then took on a life of its own as it was downloaded and modified many times and ultimately spread around the world.
- In a school district in New Jersey, a student posted a "hit list" of other students on a Web site. (The Daily Journal, New Jersey, Jan. 24, 2006)
- A Massachusetts high school student was mocked on a popular teen blogging site when fellow students impersonated her and posted fictitious sexual journal entries. (The Boston Globe, June 30, 2005)
Face-to-face (F2F) bullying versus cyberbullying
The schoolyard bully has nothing on the cyberbully.
- The cyberbully has a much wider audience, potentially the whole world. Through Web sites and the forwarding of email messages, the damage can be more far-reaching than most tweens and teens imagine or intend.
- The victim of cyberbullying has less ability to escape the tormentor. Simply avoiding the bully doesn't solve the problem when a cyberbully can continue to email, text message and post abusive comments.
- The cyberbully can remain anonymous or impersonate others, thereby escaping punishment.
- The cyberbully, by not being physically present to see or experience the reactions of the victim, remains alienated from the consequences of his actions.
- Any slanderous information sent out into cyberspace is difficult, if not impossible, to completely expunge from the Internet.
How common is it?
Cyberbullying is a new phenomenon, hence little scientific research exists to date on its true extent. However, a handful of survey results are starting to become available. For example, a 2005 survey of 1,500 adolescents, conducted by researchers Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., and Justin Patchin, Ph.D., found that over one-third of those surveyed reported that they had been bullied online.
According to Hinduja, cyberbullying can occur among children as young as 9 or 10 years old, or as soon as they're comfortable typing on keyboard. "This is happening among all ages, to be honest," he says. "Kids are embracing technology at such an early age. Our online research indicates that middle-schoolers are just as likely to be cyberbullies or victims of cyberbullying as are high schoolers."