Bullying has been with us since the first one-room schoolroom. Name-calling, insults and spreading nasty rumors were part of growing up. Now, with the internet and it's social sites, password theft and intimidations, threats, embarrassing pictures, telling secrets or giving information without permission are added - and is passed around with lightning speed.
It is disheartening to read about school administrators across our nation trying to curtail these unwanted attacks and being thwarted at attempts to stop them. When they are aware of these bullying actions, some administrators and schools react to them, having set up programs to prevent and punish the perpetrators. And now -- judges have ruled against them for doing so.
A California 8th grader complained she was called names, including a 'slut', in a YouTube video, which was posted by a classmate. The school administrators punished the classmate by suspending her. A U.S. district judge ruled this was illegal due to the fact it was 'without any evidence that such speech caused a substantial disruption of the school's activities.'
Even more disheartening was the news that a student was suspended in Pennsylvania because he posted insulting remarks about his principal calling her a 'big steroid freak" and a "big whore". Again, a U.S. district judge lifted the suspension saying that "non-disruptive speech online couldn't be punished even if the offensive material could be accessed on school computers". (Ref: LA Times)
Public schools can prevent students from calling names in a classroom or even school grounds if name-calling disputes can interfere with lessons, but have not sought to extend discipline to cover conduct outside school hours. And there are tanglements and differences in legal opinions if insults or harm to another student comes from the classroom computer or a cell phone voice mail.
Cyberbullying starts in elementary school, peaks and intensifies in junior high and continues through high school. Preadolescents get involved in cyberbullying through emails, chat rooms, and instant messaging. Websites such as MySpace and Facebook have added to it.
According to the National Crime Prevention Center, over 40% of all teenagers with Internet access have reported being bullied online during the past year.
Girls, more than boys are victims of bullying over the net and the percentage increases with the amount of time they spend online. A small percentage - about 10% - actually tell their parents about their bullying incidents and only about 15% of their parents are aware of their kids' online activities. And about 20% are reported to the National Crime Prevention Center. Teens believe they have to 'live with it' and usually won't tell their parents because they are fearful that their parents will restrict their online use or cancel their accounts, which are very popular among teens.
The problem is exacerbated by the use of camera cell phones and digital cameras - taking videos of unsuspecting victims in various situations and posting them online without their permission or knowledge. We've all seen TV news on two teens fighting while someone is videoing it instead of stopping it. Personal phone calls are recorded and posted as well.
This has become a world-wide epidemic. Even in countries like South Korea, a highly regimented culture in which the young are discouraged from speaking their minds with parents, teachers and bosses, young people, at home in their rooms, let loose, and often become provoked into maliciousness. Min Byoung-chul, a professor of English at Konkuk University in Seoul, cites the society's hyper competitiveness as a key factor in online meanness. "Many assume cyberspace is not inhabited by people with real feelings who can really be hurt," he said. "I was alarmed at the level of maliciousness on the Internet," Min said. "Many people enjoy hearing about how much damage has been done to the target person. There needs to be more civility."
With the growing increase of bullying overall and lack of respect for all people, cyberbullying has escalated into a world-wide problem.
The 'Archives of Suicide has focused on this problem and calls it 'cyberbullicide, defined as “suicide indirectly or directly influenced by experiences with online aggression” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009).
The study found that "youth who experienced traditional bullying or cyberbullying, as either an offender or a victim, scored higher on a well-validated suicidal ideation scale than those who had not experienced those two forms of peer aggression. Moreover, bullying and cyberbullying victimization was a stronger predictor of suicidal thoughts and behaviors than bullying and cyberbullying offending."
"Traditional bullying victims were 1.7 times more likely and traditional bullying offenders were 2.1 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were not traditional victims or offenders. Similarly, cyberbullying victims were 1.9 times more likely and cyberbullying offenders were 1.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were not cyberbullying victims or offenders".
Cyberbullicide does occur infrequently, but needs to be identified to inform prevention and response efforts. Some victims of bullying have lashed back through attacks on the school or other innocent children.
One prevention suggestion: To all parents, especially if your child gets home from school before you get home from work: since the National Crime Prevention states that only 15% of parents are aware of their kids' online activities, it seems that is one of the first preventative measures a parent can take to ensure their child is not receiving or perpetrating bullying activities from their home computers is to check out where your child spends his or her time online.
Ref: Cyberbullying Research Center; National Crime Prevention Center; LA Times
Good link on cyberbullying research summaries: http://www.cyberbullying.us/research.php
Marie Coppola October 2013