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What You Need to Know About Cyberbullying

by Naomi Drew M.A.

It started off with taunts and jeers. Every time Steven walked by a particular group of his 7th grade peers, he’d hear snickers, whispers, and digs. Then, like a cancer, the bullying spread. Steven felt the full strength of its metastasis the day a fellow student approached him with a picture of himself in boxer shorts and tube socks downloaded from a website -- a website, he discovered later, created with the sole intent of ridiculing him. A fellow student had secretly used his cell phone to photograph Steven getting changed in gym class. The picture was posted on the homepage of the site along with jokes and stories at his expense.

“I still can’t figure out why they hated me so much,” said Steven. “Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m in special ed.”

Tracy’s case wasn’t as extreme but was equally hurtful. A friend in her 6th grade class became annoyed about something Tracy had said. After school the girl sent a group e-mail badmouthing Tracy to five friends. The girls, in turn, circulated the e-mail to other friends, one of whom downloaded it and circulated it in class the next day. Almost instantly what started as a simple conflict between two friends became a hot topic of gossip, with Tracy on the outs, and everyone else in.

These two incidents are part of a growing epidemic of cyberbullying that’s taken hold in schools across the US. Through chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mails, websites, blogs, and text messages, tech savvy kids are going after their victims with a vengeance. What’s so sad about this trend is the “Lord of the Flies” mentality at its core. The mindset goes something like this: If I don’t join in the “dissing,” I may be the next one out.

Cyberbullying has become a self-proliferating plague among kids as young as 8 years old. Dr. Parry Aftab who runs WiredSafty.org, shared the following data on her website:

- Most cyberbullying occurs within 9-14 years of age.
- 75% of kids polled had visited a website bashing.
- 65% of students surveyed between 8-14 have been involved directly or indirectly in a cyberbullying incident as the cyber bully, victim or friend.
- 40% had their password stolen and changed by a bully (locking them out of their own account) or sent communications posing as them.

A 2005 research study on cyberbullying conducted by criminal justice specialists, Dr. Justin W. Patchin of University of Wisconsin and Dr. Sameer Hinduja of Florida Atlantic University, looked at 1,500 internet-using adolescents. Here’s what they found:
- 33% of the youth studied had been victimized through cyberbullying
- 41% of the kids who were cyberbullied did not tell anyone
- 56% of cyberbullying occurs in chatrooms
- 49% of cyberbullying takes place via instant messages
- 28% of cyberbullying occurs through e-mail

The Patchin/Hinduja study revealed the following justifications cyberbullies gave for bullying:

- 50% said it was done in fun
- 22% said it was to teach the victim a lesson
- 13% said it was to make the victim stronger

Sadly, role models kids see on TV and in video games often have a might makes right mentality and a disdain for weakness. The aggressive guy who kicks sand in the weaker person’s face seems to have all the social capital. Popular video games like Grand Theft Auto glorify aggression and violence, and kids learn primarily through imitation

What can we do to protect our kids against cyberbullying? Here are some Cyberbullying Tips offered by I-SAFE, a non-profit foundation dedicated educating kids on internet safety (isafe.org):

Just* If bullied through chat or instant messaging, the “bully” can often be blocked.
* If you are threatened with harm, inform the local police.

Spread the word. Help educate parents, teachers, and kids in your community. Change starts with awareness.

Naomi Drew is the author of the award-winning Kids’ Guide to Working Out Conflicts and five other books. For more information to LearningPeace.com. To schedule a workshop call 609-397- 8432.

 

 

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