Monday, April 8, 2013

Cyberbullying: Going Behind the Screen

Think back to when you were just a child, walking through the halls of elementary or playing games on the playground, everything seemed so innocent until that one day. That one day when you saw someone else become the target of a bully. Maybe you were the target or perhaps even the bully. Whichever it was, you knew that there would be a time where it would all go away. Once you got home, you could feel at peace because it’s not like the bully can walk right in your own house. But in today’s growing world, is there a place like that? Practically wherever children and teenagers are, there is technology with them that allows the bully to torment from afar.

These are just a few of the commonly used insults bullies use to make the victims feel inferior.
How can one define cyberbullying?

How can you pinpoint a definition for something that is having rising severe effects on children, teens, friends, and family everywhere? One could do a search on the internet, go through different dictionaries and other prints forms of media, or survey random people and will rarely get the exact same answer. But they all circle around the same meaning when you mix and match parts of each one. According to Internet Safety 101, cyberbullying is willful and repeated harm (i.e., harassing, humiliating, or threatening text or images) inflicted through the Internet, interactive technologies, or mobile phones. There are multiple tactics that can be involved in cyberbullying which has been categorized as gossip, exclusion, impersonation, harassment, cyberstalking, flaming, outing and trickery, and cyberthreats. Another definition from says cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology including devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Examples can include, but are not limited to, mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.
The uprising popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and Twitter are not to be of blame, but these online mediums has taken bullying to depths. The greater possibilities generated from these forms of technology, have only enhanced the scenarios of bullying.
What have studies shown?

              Over 95% of teenagers use social networking sites to communicate with peers. Similar conclusions have been found in studies from the Harford count Examiner, i-SAFE foundation, and the Cyberbullying Research Center. Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it a very common medium for bullies to reach their targets at all times. Over half of adolescents and teen have been victims of cyberbullying, while 10-20% experience bullying online regularly. According to a study from March and April of 2007, students who experienced cyberbullying, as both a victim and an offender, had significantly lower self-esteem compared to those who had little or no experience with cyberbullying (Patchin).

           With the numbers being at such a high, what happens to the teenagers and adolescents who go through such painful victimization?

What effects can cyberbullying have?

           Bullies are no longer limited to the school playground or street. The different mediums of technology allow bullying to happen anywhere, 24 hours a day seven days a week. Cyberbullying is one of the latest ways technology is modifying the social lives of children at such a defenseless age to take on such insults. The anonymity of the Web and other wireless devices are used by bullies to take schoolyard bullying to the next step without any consequences ("Schoolyard E-Bullies).
           There is a variety of effects on those being bullied, depending on the severity and individual differences overall in the tragic experience. But it is most common that those who are cyberbullied are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, skip or be unwilling to attend school, receive poor grades, have lower self-esteem, and have more health problems. According to KidsHealth, severe or chronic cyberbullying can also leave the victims with greater risk for anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. In most of the publicized cases, it is passed this point where the victim has turned to suicide as what they see as their only escape.
          According to the National Crime Prevention Council to here is a variety of emotions youth feel when they are cyberbullied that it can cause different reactions for the victim to take. Children and teenagers who are cyberbullied report feelings of anger, hurt, embarrassment, and being scared. Such emotions can give reason for a victim to react by seeking revenge on the bully, avoiding friends and activities, and even cyberbullying back. 

         This video is just one of thousands that people have posted on sites like YouTube. By searching topics such as "cyberbullying my story" or "cyberbullying real stories", you will get an abundance of choices to watch different real examples of how cyberbullying has affected people. These are ways the victims are able to share their story to the world and get their emotions out.

Real life examples

Megan bought a crown for her 
coming birthday. Image from
          Megan Meier committed suicide in October 2006 at the young age of 13 years old. She was a victim of a cruel cyber hoax which turned out to have an inexplicable twist compared to the common cyberbullying. Meier had suffered from low self-esteem and had been on medication at the time of her death. She had been befriended by a 16 year old boy named Josh Evans on MySpace. It began as a connected friendship online but his kind words changed to insults. “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you any longer because I hear you’re not nice to your friends” is one of the last messages Evans sent. This is easily enough to devastate a young girl trying to live in a world of doing and being what is expected from the society. Tina Meier discovered her daughter’s body in a bedroom closet where she had hanged herself. It was not until six weeks later that the twist of the story was uncovered though. Josh Evans never existed. He was actually created by a mother and daughter who lived down the street. Megan went on vacations with this family and they knew of her depression. They, along with some other help, had sent Meiers the messages to see what she thought about their daughter and others.

Image from TIME
          Phoebe Prince committed suicide on January 14, 2010 when she was just 15 years old. She had just recently emigrated with her mother and sister from Ireland and was a new student at South Hadley in Massachusetts. Like all young teenage girls, she was focused on what to wear, how to fit in, and adapting to a whole new culture and set of norms. But the other teenagers in the high school did not make it any easier for her. They called her names like “whore” and “Irish slut” and taunted her with insults and physical threats whenever they got the chance. The five teenagers accused of carrying out a “three month campaign” of bullying that resulted in Prince’s suicide have been sentenced. Three of the teens received probation and community service hours, while two only face probation.

         How can children and teens get away from their online bullies when their home is not even form of protection? Parents are no longer able to count on seeing the former signs of bullying such as a black eye, bloody lip or nose, and torn clothing.

How can one prevent cyberbullying?

          As adults, you can help to stop cyberbullying by learning why it occurs and then by teaching the youth how to interact positively in cyberspace. 81% of youth think that others cyberbully because they think it’s funny. Too many of the younger generations do not realize how serious the consequences can be and how much of a negative impact cyberbullying can have on the victim, along with the rest of his/her family and friends. That kind of attitude spreads and the effects of cyberbullying will keep getting worse and worse. Parents or guardians need to be aware of what their youth is doing online to make sure they are being safe and responsible.
          Also, cyberbullying safety tips say to make sure to encourage your child to talk to you if anything happens online that makes them feel threatened, uncomfortable, or hurt emotionally. Keep this communication line open and calm so they know they can count on you. Make sure to keep contact information and passwords safe and hard for hackers to get into. By not posting such information online, it will be harder to be used against them. Remind the child that anything they post on their account or website, people can see, and whomever they befriend could forward or use that information. Do not just talk with your child about cyberbullying prevention once. It is something that can occur at any time, so by continually talking to them and keeping a close eye on what they do online there is a lesser chance of cyberbullying. If bullying occurs online, use software to block the bullies if through chat rooms or IM and use privacy settings on social networking sites. An important thing to keep in mind is to not erase or delete message the child receives from cyberbullies as evidence. This makes it easier to track down who is harassing your child.
           There are many organizations online that provide an abundance of helpful advice and tips to help prevent cyberbullying from starting and even how to deal with it once it occurs. They provide previous examples that can help you decide what your next step is to take and ways for you to get in touch though comment postings.
            By first understanding what cyberbullying is, learning how it can affect the society and individuals, taking into account tips on how to keep your child safe, it is a start to preventing such a tragic and life-taking epidemic from intensifying. You do not want your child to go through what so many children go through every day that has led to them taking away their own life.


Note 1: Background Image borrowed from Teens Against Cyber Bullying

Work Cited

Patchin, Justin W., and Sameer Hinduja. "Cyberbullying And Self-Esteem." Journal 

           Of School Health 80.12 (2010): 614-621. Academic Search Elite. Web. 7 Apr. 2013.

"Schoolyard E-Bullies." Communications of the ACM 48.5 (2005): 9-10. Academic Search 

           Elite. Web. 6 Apr. 2013.