Cyberbullying: The Hate, Torment and Death Virus
Megan Meier was 13 years old when she committed suicide due to bullying from a fellow classmate and her mother through a fake MySpace account. 18 year old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge after footage of him engaged in sexual activity was secretly recorded and released online by his roommates. Hope Witsell committed suicide in 2009 after being taunted by classmates for a nude photo she sent to a crush that others found.
While bullying has been a serious problem in American schools at all levels for many years, a new technological development has caused the effects to multiple. Bullies now use social networks, cell phone text messaging, and other online services to torment fellow students. Experts are calling it cyberbullying, and it may be more dangerous than previously thought.
Children are now growing up with cell phones and constant internet access, and bullies are using these avenues to reach their victims even when they are at home. Where children once found sanctuary in the protection of their own home, text messages and online threats will continue to harass them 24 hours a day. The use of social media also spreads damaging images and text at an incredible rate. Anyone can create anonymous email accounts or fake social media website profiles, and there is little a victim can do to stop them.
In Megan Meier’s case, a fellow classmate’s mother created a false MySpace profile and pretended to be a 16 year old boy. She used this fake profile to create an emotional connection to Megan, and then tormented her through text messages and MySpace messages. Megan had been in psychiatric care for most of her life. This additional stress was more than she could handle.
Tyler Clementi was not a middle or high school student, but he was still devastated when secret video footage of him engaging in sexual acts with an unknown male was leaked onto the internet by his college roommates. Despite being openly gay, the humiliation of having the most private part of his life viewed by thousands of people pushed him to jump from the George Washington Bridge. Where before, bullies would have had to distribute the video by hand, limiting its spread, online video chat sped up the process.
Nearly a third of all adolescents report being teased or bullied on a regular basis. About a fourth receive harassment or violent treatment at least once a week. While bullying may have once been considered a rite of passage or a natural part of childhood, child psychologists and therapists are starting to see serious side effects. Depression, suicidal tendencies, anti-social behavior and anxiety disorders are all being linked to regular bullying.
Childhood and adolescence is a difficult time for most individuals due to puberty, and it is the time when social behaviors are learned. When children are ostracized by their peers, they may feel completely isolated and alone, despite supportive parents. Children who are threatened or harassed by their classmates have trouble concentrating on schoolwork and may avoid school altogether. But with the recent rise in cyberbullying, staying home from school may not prevent the damage.
Cyberbullying has become the most recent threat that parents worry will affect their children. Research from Care.com’s new survey shows that bullying, including cyberbullying, is now many parent’s number one fear. Traditional worries like kidnapping and terrorism are falling behind bullying due to the pervasiveness of technology in the lives of even the youngest children. With 10 and 11 year olds regularly carrying cell phones, parents realize that they may not be able to notice the subtle signs of bullying or teasing as easily. Children may be reluctant to tell their parents out of fear of being disconnected from the internet or their cell phones.
In fact, experts from the Cyberbullying Research Center say that immediately blocking access to all cell phones and internet services upon hearing of a bullying incident may only upset a child further. Banning technology won’t help the child cope with the real life harassment that occurs while they are at school, and it may cause them to avoid telling a parent about future incidents. It’s recommended that you encourage your child to talk to you about bullying behavior, both online and at school, and to let them know that they don’t have to deal with harassment or bullying alone. Parents should be careful about how they step in to deal with bullies. Speaking with a school’s administrator and counselor to deal with the problem comprehensively is usually more successful than trying to interfere directly.
Due to the anonymity of online accounts, many bullies are encouraged to become much more aggressive and hurtful then they might be in a face to face situation. They also don’t feel the same remorse because they can’t see the pain their behavior causes in their victims. Parents who suspect that their children are bullying others should set clear boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate behavior with their children.
Monitoring the internet access of both victims and cyberbullies is often the best way to understand what is happening in each situation. This can be done through various methods, including software and limited access with direct supervision, but experts say parents should be open about the process so children know they are being watched. Discovering that their parents have been spying on them secretly may only cause them to close up further about cyberbullying.
Education and clear lines of communication are the only ways for parents to help protect their children from cyberbullying. While Google has been ordered by the Supreme Court to release information that may identify culprits in a recent cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment case, there is no guarantee that having this information will help stop harassment or bullying. Children and teens need to learn how to protect themselves from unwanted online harassment, and they need to feel comfortable asking adults for help when it becomes out of control.