Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cyberbullying: Same dog, new tricks, more devastation.

Nearly every teen in the US has access to the Internet. In 2009, 93% of teens were online in some form or other. Three-quarters of online teens used social-networking sites. And 75% had a cell phone. That was two years ago.

Kids are wired up and ready to go.

And just like at school, on the bus, in the malls, wherever they are ... kids sometimes bully and get bullied in cyberspace. A recent study of thousands of teenagers in the southern US indicated that about 20% of them reported having been cyberbullied. And 20% of them admitted to having engaged in that behavior, which was defined in that study as "repeatedly making fun of another person online or repeatedly picking on another person through email or text message, or when someone posts something online about another person that they don’t like.”

Common venues for cyberbullying: Facebook. Youtube. Instant Messaging. Texts. And social gaming sites. Yes, kids are getting bullied in the 3-D worlds on their portable gaming devices.

Just like in-person bullying, there are some gender differences. Girls, who, at this point, are far more likely to report being cyberbullied than boys, are more likely to cyberbully through spreading rumors. Boys are more likely to cyberbully by posting hurtful pics or videos.

Like so many of the rest of us, teens are vulnerable to online disinhibition. In other words, with the screen in front of you, unable to see the face of your victim, it's easier to sling words that hurt. Some kids might not even be aware of the damage they're doing.

Unfortunately, because it's online, those careless words can go viral instantaneously.

So you have sharper cruelty spreading faster. Nonstop. 24/7. Kids don't have to wait to get to school--the hurt might be sitting in their inbox.

If you'd like an awesome, awesome resource for research-based information and practically useful resources, check out the Cyberbullying Research Center. Those folks are on top of it.

Like in-person bullying, culture counts. If kids live in a culture that brushes off or condones this type of online/texting behavior, they're not going to see anything wrong with it. One of the trickier things about cyberbullying is that parents often feel outmatched by their teens--they don't know as much about the technology as the kid does. Here's where open conversations AND parental controls are necessary.

As an aside, did you know the most effective therapies for kids' delinquent behavior involve working with their parents to have decent relationships with them AND exert their parental control? Yes. It works, technology or no technology.

A lot of you are teachers--what are you seeing in schools? And many of you are parents--have your kids had experiences with cyberbullies? And is there a published YA book on this topic? There must be.

On the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog front, check out Lydia's post on what she always/never does as a writer.


  1. The problem with cyberbullying is that it's not limited to teenagers. The anonymity behind the internet has inspired adults to lash out in the same way we used to think only kids did.

    As an adult, *I* have been cyberbullied by adults. I've been a part of social network sites where if you don't agree with the norm, the majority of participants will lash out at you and force you out. I've received emails telling me I should go and kill myself, I'm a bleepidy-bleep moron, etc.

    Go look at the comments section after any online news post and you'll see adults cyberbullying just as harshly as any kid.

    Unfortunatley, though, I think teenagers are less able to handle cyberbullying. No longer are they safe at home. There's no reprieve. And that's why it's so devastating.

  2. Emily--Seems like the whole world is a popularity contest, sometimes, and Facebook tends to highlight that. How many "friends do you have?" "Are you hooked up with someone?" Like you say, God forbid your opinion is different from the rest. Sometimes I can't stand it!

    Nice post, Sarah! This is definitely an important topic.

  3. Wasn't there a case where a girl killed herself because of bullying on Facebook? And there was a mother charged right?

    So sad.

  4. I haven't had to deal with this yet, but it is coming. My 8 yo wants a FB account and I've already told him no. Besides, none of his friends have one.

    I think there is a book, but I can't remember the title. Or maybe I'm imaging there is one.

    Great post!

  5. you and em are so right here! i'm happy my kiddos are too young for social media- as of yet- but i know the day is coming... too soon. it does seem like there should be a book that addresses this- but i can't think of any now. i know (forgive me i'm a disney addict) read it and weep was a little movie that had girlish cyberbullying in it- but only just a little. a recent read i loved that dealt with bullying (though not cyber as far as i can remember) was How To Say Goodbye in Robot. seriously, one of my favorite books ever.
    i really think things would be so much more pleasant if people could just appreciate and respect and love each other- different, same, or whatever. it's really a shame that bullying is so prevalent everywhere... there is a difference between being passionate about something and disagreeing with someone- and being mean. jiminey!

  6. Wow. This post (and your post on Monday) are terrifying for so many reasons. My kids are obviously not at this stage yet but because bullying is so prevelant, we do talk about it openly and often and I hope it helps when they are at the age where bullying becomes problematic. Oh how I wish these problems would just go away.

  7. Great post! I actually had to teach a mini-lesson on cyberbullying; it's ridiculous how the most conflicts that start in my school stem from Facebook. I remember cyberbullying played a key part in Courtney Summers' Some Girls Are.

  8. I'm with aspiring_x: so glad my kids are young enough that we don't have to deal with the online bullying issue. My boy is only 5, and we have had real-life bullying issues, however. It's terrifying, as a parent, to watch it happen to your child. Thanks for these insightful posts!

  9. Cyberbullying is so insidiously dangerous. Another great post. I just wonder how I'm going to protect mine from all these forms of bullying.

  10. hi miss sarah! im not allowed on those sites. but my big brother whose raising us said i could do a blog cause it was my doctors idea. but even on my blog a couple times i got some mean emails and a couple comments that werent so nice and that was from adults. one almost got me stopped blogging for being so mean. me and my brother talked about it. for parents for sure they gotta get on top of it with their kids like my brother does with us.
    ...hugs from lenny

  11. This is such an important topic! It's scary. I have kids that are approaching teenage years, and I want to protect them, but I also know they will have their own lives. I doubt I'll give them total control though.