While physical intimidation at schools has long been a problem in the United States and has caused hundreds of students all over the country to – at least – consider dropping out of school, there is an even more serious danger lurking in the shadows, one that very few parents realize, much less understand and know how to deal with Cyberbullying in America.
When considering Cyberbullying in America, one must look at the rapid pace at which technology evolves, with the average age for starting to own a cell phone and use the Internet in America being as early as 11.6 years, and over 36% of parents taking absolutely no action to limit or monitor digital communication use at homes (according to a Microsoft research poll), it’s about time we paid attention to the very possible consequences of the rather wide technological gap that is accompanying the generation gap, which brings us to cyberbullying in America.
While the online world can be an amazing source of entertainment, with a lot of educative materials, games and opportunities for connectivity, too much of anything backfires. Since the Internet allows the ease of creating a parallel reality, this virtual space gives more solid grounds for predators, some of which really intend to harm, and others who might merely be the peers of your child. Instead of taking the fight to the playground, some children and adolescents take it to the Internet, and while some are bold about who they are, many are masked in anonymity and fake personas that interact – perhaps on regular bases and for rather long terms – with your child.
Unlike schoolyard teasing or fights, the anonymity provided by electronic media can encourage bullies, and their ubiquity allows vicious comments, nasty remarks, and unflattering photos or videos to be sent to countless numbers of people instantaneously. Now imagine the impact of this activity, multiplied every time a single person shares the same picture, video, or whatever “material” the bully used, and we have an inevitably endless loop of nastiness, insults, or mere laughs, targeted at ONE person.
The schoolyard physical assault has been replaced by a twenty-four hour per day, seven-day a week online bashing. No longer can a torn shirt or a bloody lip be signs of a bullied child; the damage done by this form of attack is indeed “invisible”, but it’s definitely no less real, and it might even be more painful.
That’s Cyberbullying in America
What is being said about Cyberbullying in America:
“The most common online risk for all teens” ~ The American Academy of Pediatrics
“A problem that affects almost half of all American teens” ~ The National Crime Prevention Council, 2011
“It is a potentially fatal societal illness that must be respected and not feared; respected and dealt with as a very real problem and as an adversary of a potentially harmonious world, that should have no place for bullies” ~ Collin Farrell, LA actor.
Alarming Statistics about Cyberbullying in America:
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Justice Statistics and Cyberbullying Research Center…
Percent of students who reported being cyberbullied
Teens who have experienced cyberthreats online
Teens who have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the internet
Teens who do not tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs
Percent of teens who have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of themselves without their permission, often using cell phone cameras
In comparison to a percentage of 37% of students who reported being physically bullied at school, 52% have reported being cyberbullied, knowing that a lot of adolescents prefer not to report being harassed online, for several reasons. Some of them are scared of making the situation worse, for themselves or for other people, because they’d been threatened about what would happen if they did tell anyone, or felt ashamed about their own behaviour. If it was something rude, they often didn’t want to tell their parents; they felt too embarrassed to have conversations about things like that or were worried it might be their fault and that they would also get punished.
More often than not, adolescents are worried that grown-ups “don’t understand” and that they’re not able to explain it properly to their parents, and they end up feeling closed-up inside, depressed, or worried that nobody would believe them. More commonly, they are so attached to their access to technology that they fear having that “right” denied if they report being cyberbullied.
In a research conducted by Pew Internet Research Center in 2011, in collaboration with Cable in the Classroom and Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), it is stated that 66% of teens who have witnessed online cruelty have also witnessed others joining; a staggering 20% say they have also joined in the harassment, while 80% say they have defended the victim.
On the parent and caregiver end, 85% of parents of youth aged 13-17 report their child has a social networking account, according to the American Osteopathic Association, and one in every six parents know their child has been bullied via a social networking site.
Moreover, 39% of all parents of teens have connected to their child on a social network site, but that does not necessarily prevent online trouble for the teen. Parents who have “friended” their child on social network sites are more likely to report using parental controls, and teens who are social media friends with their parents are also more likely to report that they had a problem with their parents because of an experience on social media.
Cyberbullying in America: Detrimental Outcomes
“It made me feel hurt. It scared me and took away all my confidence. It made me feel sick and worthless”.
That’s not a teenager being overly emotional; that’s a Cyberbullying victim. There are many negative consequences associated with Cyberbullying that reach into the real world. Many targets of Cyberbullying report feeling depressed, sad, angry and frustrated. Victims who experience Cyberbullying also exhibit less desire to show up at school. In addition, research has revealed a link between Cyberbullying and low self-esteem, family problems, academic problems, school violence and delinquent or antisocial behaviour.
Even scarier, cyberbullied youth also report having suicidal thoughts, and there have been a number of examples in the United States where youth who were victimized ended up tragically taking their own lives.
When it comes to suicides related to Cyberbullying, some names have made national headlines in recent years. Ryan Halligan’s death in 2003 may be the earliest known case of suicide provoked by Internet taunts, but unfortunately, many others have followed.
Some of the victims were cyberbullied alive, like Ryan Halligan (2003), Tyler Clementi (2010), Michael Joseph Berry (2008) and Megan Meier (2006), others were continuously bullied after their deaths through their Facebook memorial pages, like Amanda Cummings (2011) and Phoebe Prince (2010).
Ryan Patrick Halligan was “a sweet, gentle and lanky thirteen-year-old fumbling his way through the early adolescence and trying to establish his way in the often confusing and difficult social world of middle school”, says his mum on his memorial website. Ryan’s family, from New York, had early concerns with his speech, language and motor skills development as he neared kindergarten, which was why they sent him to receive special education services from pre-school through fourth grade.
By the time he was in fifth grade, he was assessed to be no longer in need of special education; however, he was always aware that he was not as academically strong as his peers, which continued to bother him, despite his emotional intelligence. A few kids started to pick on his poor academic and physical performance, but since he was not physically bullied by them, his parents advised him to ignore them and walk away.
The same few kids continued to bully him through seventh grade, but the situation got worse during eighth when the physical aggression started. After his parents talked to him about it, they agreed they shouldn’t talk to the school principal about it, because “it would only make matters worse”, and that they should teach him some self-defence tips. After a few “encounters” of physical bullying, Ryan told them the bully stopped approaching him.
However, what surprised the parents was how Ryan told them he and the bully had become friends. While they thought of telling him not to befriend him, they thought they should not intervene in his social life decisions. It was only after eighth grade, in the summer, when Ryan started using instant messaging software, and was constantly online, chatting with friends. His mother had given him certain rules for using the Internet, and one of them was to never use a password apart from the one they shared together, and promised him to never spy on him. And it all lasted for a few months.
After Ryan took away his own life, the desperate mother decided to go to his AOL account where he spent most of his online time, and discovered the Cyberbullying her lost son was subject to. The “new friend”, or Ryan’s ex-school bully, had spread nasty comments about him based upon a funny and embarrassing story Ryan had shared. The rumours made it to the pretty girl whom Ryan liked, and she called him a “loser” and implied he was gay, although she had made him think she liked him back online because her friends thought it was “cool”.
“Nothing can ever bring back our Ryan. Nothing will ever heal our broken hearts. But we hope by sharing the personal details of our tremendous loss, another family will have been spared a lifelong sentence to this kind of pain”, says Ryan’s mother on his memorial website. “If only we knew; if only he had told us…”
“Everybody in O’Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you”
That was the last message she received on her My Space account. This heart-wrenching story is the story of Megan Taylor Meier, the young American teenager who hanged herself in the closet only weeks before her fourteenth birthday, after being attacked through My Space by Lori Drew, her former friend’s mother, who impersonated a “hot” sixteen-year-old Josh Evans, who never existed.
After convincing her he loved her and whatnot, Megan received this message from Josh: “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends”, which was followed by a cybergang attack from many girls whom she hadn’t been on good terms with. Later on, they posted a “bulletin”, some sort of poll, which read “Megan is fat”, “Megan is a sl*t”, and other horrible remarks. “I had this God-awful feeling and I ran up into her room and she had hung herself in the closet”, said the mother who lost her child to cyber bullies.
And although he was not a “child”, eighteen year old violin player Tyler Clementi was also driven to suicide because a homophobic room-mate who used Twitter to attack Tyler. As a freshman at Rutgers University, he had a roommate who – apparently – had an anti-gay stance. When Tyler asked him to leave the room for him one night, Dharun Ravi, the room-mate, secretly used a webcam to stream Tyler’s romantic interlude with another man over the internet, using Twitter to let everyone know about it (see picture)
The suicide of Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge, focused national attention on the victimization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
While some research suggests that Cyberbullying in America is seen as a predecessor to suicide attempts, and the third leading cause of death among 10-24-year-olds in America, new research reported at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition shows that Cyberbullying is rarely the sole factor in teen suicides. Until a direct cause-effect relationship is proved, the question of the extent to which we can tie Cyberbullying to teenage suicide will remain controversial.