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.”
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.