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Today’s children and young people have grown up in a world that is very different from that of most adults. As mobile phones and internet use become increasingly common, so has the misuse of technology. Many young people experience the internet and mobile phones as a positive, productive and creative part of their activities and development of their identities; information communication technologies support social activity that allows young people to feel connected to their peers. This research will explore the various ways that cyber bullying has become prominent in today’s youth. Bullying does not only prevail in schools now, but also in the Internet. Today’s technology and internet play a major role in cyber bullying.
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Every day of our lives we are exposed to the benefits of technology; innovations such as mobile phones enable us to communicate, and collaborate more effectively than before. However, in the possession of those who wish to inflict harm upon others, these inventions can be leveraged for nefarious purposes. One severely dangerous and unfortunately obscure application of technology is cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is when a child or teen is threatened, humiliated, or harassed by another child or teen using the internet, mobile phones, or any other digital technology. Cyber bullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, intended to harm (Belsley).
Cyber bullying has been used to augment bullying that is occurring in school. The major differences between cyber bullying and traditional bullying are that the bully does not have to see the victims reaction to the harassment, the victim can remain anonymous, the harassment can occur at anytime, and the audience has the potential to be worldwide. Parents are not currently familiar with cyber bullying, but this aspect of cyber bullying will change with time. Many of the strategies that were successful with traditional bullying could be applied to cyber bullying. If adults become involved in this kind of behavior, it is called “adult cyber-harassment” (YoungWomensHealth).
This is a far cry from the bullying behavior from days gone by. I interviewed people from two different generations. Carrie was in high school in the late 1940’s.
Alana: Was your school setting similar to that of today? Carrie: No, we were all taught in a one room schoolhouse. Grades one to seven learned lessons together. Alana: Was there any bullying going on back then? Carrie: No. Just chiding or what some folks call doing “the dozens”. Children were accustomed to behaving. They cared about what their parents thought. They never wanted to embarrass their parents. It was respectful almost all of the time. Alana: Did any child kill themselves over being picked on? Carrie: No. Never. Alana: Thank you for your input.
Aishah was in high school in the 1980’s. Alana: How were children bullied when you were in school, and was there a lot of it? Aishah: Oh yeah. There was bullying back in those school days. It wasn’t viscious like it is today, though. Alana: What did children do or say? Aishah: They would write ugly messages on bathroom stalls and student desks or pass ugly notes in class. Alana: Did anyone fight over rumors and name-calling? Aishah: They fought and were friends the next day.
Alana: You all used computers. Who was bullied by computer? Aishah: Please, not too many people had a home computer. They were kind of expensive back then, and we played Space Invaders and one other game on them. That’s it. Alana: Did teens and pre-teens have cell phones or other electronic communication devices at that time. Aishah: Oh absolutely not. Those were very expensive back then, as were the charges. Only doctors, lawyers and drug dealers carried cell phones and pagers. Alana: Does it seems as though all of the new electronic forms of communication have contributed to cyber bullying. Aishah: I do. 100 percent!
Numerous physical and mental ailments can ensue from online harassment in youth and adults all over the world. Whereas traditional bullying is confined usually within school boundaries, cyber-bullying can take place at any time or place, even in the privacy of one’s home. Therefore, students who are electronically engaged can be cyber bullied at any time. Options for escape are extremely limited, with the principal options being either to cease using the Internet or ignore the harasser. Preliminary research by Willard suggests cyber-bullying may produce even more damage to youth, with such consequences ranging from low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, depression, school absenteeism, poor grades, an increased tendency to violate against others, to youth suicide (Willard).
Examples of cyber bullying are sending threatening or offensive e-mails, instant messages, or cell phone text messages directly to the victim (WiredKids). Some cyber bullies berate their intended victims by sending mass e-mails, or text messages, to a large group of their peers to humiliate them. The appeal of using instant messaging, email or other communication platforms for bullies is the advantage of covert humiliation. Users can hide behind their IP address, which is little accountability for their actions, and the probability of the abuse being traced to an individual culprit being slim to none. Temporary email accounts and pseudonyms in chat rooms, instant messaging programs, and other Internet venues can make it very difficult for individuals to determine the identity of aggressors. The nature of much of this of this cruelty also prevents blame from being duly laid.
The phenomena deals more with the ability to reach such a wide audience and humiliate, threaten, or virtually destroy the reputation of another with a single click of a mouse or the send button on a mobile phone. Although rumors spread fast with word of mouth, they are not able to reach as many people in such a short period of time as they would with text messaging. It is very difficult to defend oneself from cyber bullying when the audience is vast, and the perpetrator is often anonymous. Those who bully others seek to establish power and control over others that they perceive to be “weaker” than them (Belsley). The motivation of bullies is sometimes due to a lack of confidence and a desire for control. Bullying on the computer is quite cowardly, because the perpetrator won’t confront their victim in person. The lack of face-to-face interaction in cyber bullying, reduces empathy in bullies and the fear of getting caught.
Cyber bullying is strange thing. Although there is no physical violence, cyber bullying can be more frightening to the targets because there are, potentially, an unlimited number of witnesses. When bullying is anonymous, targets are unaware of whom to watch out for or respond to attacks; which can lead to feelings of helplessness. Over half of teenagers who are targeted by cyber bullies never actually report it. Cyber bullying often occurs away from adults. Therefore, witnesses or bystanders to cyber bullying have a very important role to play when it comes to putting an end to it. They represent social consensus and in this capacity, have an important role to play in stopping or supporting cyber bullying (BeWebAware).
The latest technologies used by cyber bullies are camera phones, built-in digital cameras into the phones, add new dimensions to the problem. Cyber bullies use them to take pictures of a victim in the restroom or locker rooms and post them on the web or send them to others through e-mail or picture messaging on a cell phone. Violent fights at schools are captured by students on their mobile phones and then sent to others or posted on websites like YouTube, MySpace, or Face book for others to view and comment on, causing harm to the victims. Now school administrators and teachers are being asked to oversee students in cyberspace, which anyone can access just about anywhere, anytime, day or night (Franek). If the offending media is a video file of a schoolgirl in a compromising situation that is being shared from phone to phone, is everyone who has a copy of the file worthy of punishment? It is these issues, and many more that have prompted a timely increase in the awareness of cyber bullying.
On social networking sites, they allow you to tag the names of people who appear in a photo. This simple act can lead to cyber bullying, as these photos will appear in any search engine under the person’s name, allowing the victims to be exposed. Children and teens write messages for all of their friends to see in blogs. However, kids sometimes use these blogs to damage one another’s reputations or invade their privacy (WiredKids). Sometimes teens set up fake profile pages, impersonating others, degrading them and saying things designed to harm and humiliate them.
MySpace is the number one social networking site for high school age students and younger. Most kids use MySpace to set up profiles and share information about themselves, their favorite music, Hollywood stars and other interests with kids in their school or neighborhood. For most, MySpace represents a fun form of self-expression that utilizes the latest online technology. However it is executed, cyber bullying on MySpace remains a significant problem. While many chalk it up to “kids being kids”, more and more are starting to realize that a nasty post on someone’s MySpace page is as bad or worse that a taunt yelled across the schoolyard.
Facebook is similar to MySpace except that it is geared towards a slightly older audience, the music and customization functionality is a lot less robust than found on MySpace, but is still being used by cyber bullies to harass their classmates and ex-friends. The rules of engagement are similar to those found in MySpace. People will either use their own profile to harass others, or create fake identities and build profiles to harass other people or dupe them into thinking another person is interested in them, romantically or as a friend. When on Facebook, sometimes you get requests from people you don’t know through your friends. Many teens want to seem popular so they accept the unknown people, to expand their friends to try and get as many as possible. When a “friend” doesn’t like something you’ve said or done, they can bad mouth you to the people that are on your friends list.
One of the fastest growing social media enterprises, Twitter, allows people to “follow” one another by posting regular updates about their activities. Twitter is seeing a growing number of cyber bullying incidents as more and more kids figure out how to post hateful, harassing information about their friends and deliver it “via Tweet” to as many followers of the site as they can. In the most extreme cases of cyber bullying, many kids are going to the trouble of building entire websites from scratch in order to use them to humiliate another individual. A common method for doing this is to buy a URL from godaddy.com that humiliates the target such as: www.ambersisugly.com, then fill it with unkind postings and photos. Photoshopping a person into uncompromising positions is a highly used form of cyber bullying, then spreading word about the site to others via email, social networking, etc.
Many kids today are playing interactive games on gaming devices such as X-Box Live and Sony Play Station 2 Network. Multiplayer online games and virtual worlds can be venues for harassment and cyber bullying. These gaming devices allows teens to communicate by chat and live Internet phone with anyone they find themselves matched with in an online game. Sometimes the kids verbally abuse the other kids, using threats and crude language. Sometimes they take it further, by locking them out of games, passing false rumors about them or hacking into their accounts (Willard).
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Yet, interactive gaming is what kids and teens enjoy the most. And what used to be a solitary and isolating activity is now a community and social activity. As entertaining as interactive gaming is, parents should be aware that their children can speak, using their own voice, with strangers online. Xbox comes with built-in parental controls, which prevent the child from using voice chat until the parent feels they are able to handle it safely. They need to be aware that networked gaming devices offer voice chat (WiredKids). They also need to understand that many other interactive voiced games can be accessed online using an ordinary headset.
Some teens who get involved in cyber bullying don’t realize the impact or consequence of what they say online or in a text message. They may feel that saying something online or via a text message is not as bad as if they said it in person. The bully then sits back and gains gratification from seeing others engage in destructive behavior towards each other (Field). It may even start out as a joke. Others use cyber bullying because they don’t have the courage to say something face to face. Either way you look at it, cyber bullying is wrong because the remarks are usually untrue, very hurtful and can be damaging to the victim.
If educators and administrators could create and use blogs to educate students about cyber-bullying in language that students can understand and to which they can relate, it may be a more appropriate medium for implementing guidelines as opposed to the more traditional and older-fashioned approaches. Web blogs represent a new medium for computer-mediated communication that may offer discernment into the ways of young people’s self-expression and relationships in peer groups.
Schools need to educate students and parents about cyber bullying. They need to inform parents and students of acceptable computer use policies in writing at the beginning of the school year and strictly reinforce these policies throughout the school year. It is recommended that there be a clause in the policy allowing school officials to discipline students for violating the acceptable use policies when not using school computers under certain circumstances (COPS). The policies should be posted visibly in areas where computers will be used by students. A penalty for students violating any acceptable policy should be suspension of their computer privileges.
All children and teens have a way of showing their emotions or signs that something is wrong. Parents and teachers sometimes mistake these signs as normal behavior. It is not until this behavior gets out of hand or creates problems, that someone grows concerned and begins to ask questions. Signs that a child is being cyber bullied can vary. A few things to look for are:
signs of emotional distress during or after using the internet, withdrawal from friends and activities, avoidance of school or group gatherings, slipping grades and “acting out” in anger at home, or changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite (KidsHealth). Children who are victims of cyber bullying normally do not tell anyone, because they feel afraid or are embarrassed.
There have been many high profile and tragic incidents in the media in recent years which have linked adolescent suicides to experiences with cyber bullying. The connection between suicide and interpersonal aggression is certainly nothing new, as a number of studies have documented the association between bullying and suicide. Those who experience bullying, and those who bully, report higher levels of suicidal ideation and are more likely to have attempted suicide. Some people who end their lives or attempt suicide might be trying to escape feelings of rejection, hurt, or loss. Others might be angry, ashamed, or guilty about something. Some people may be worried about disappointing friends or family members. And some may feel unwanted, unloved, victimized, or like they’re a burden to others (KidsHealth).
The following is an account of real-life examples. “Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri was, by all accounts, a sweet, loving young lady. Megan’s parents vigilantly monitored Megan’s Internet use, going so far as refusing to give Megan access to her own MySpace account unless one of them was there to input the secret password. Shortly before her fourteenth birthday, a cute boy name “Josh” sent Megan an electronic request to be added as a “friend” to her MySpace account. For the next six weeks, Megan and Josh exchanged on-line correspondence and Megan began to have a rosier outlook on life as there was now a cute boy who thought she was pretty; Megan had suffered for years with weight issues and depression. Suddenly, and inexplicably, Megan received a message from Josh ending their on-line “relationship” because he had heard that she was not nice to her friends. Josh had also shared some of the private content of their prior conversations with other classmates on MySpace which led those classmates to launch an online attack against her, calling her vicious names.
Later that evening, Megan’s mother found her hanging by a belt in her bedroom closet; she died the next day. Sadly, Megan’s story gets much worse. Weeks later it would be revealed that “Josh” was an imaginary persona, allegedly created by the mother of one of Megan’s former friends. The mother, the former friend, an eighteen-year-old employee of the mother, and several other of Megan’s classmates all took turns pretending to be “Josh”, writing messages and causing Megan to reveal personal and private information to an audience that she believed was a cute boy that liked her” (Pokin).
“Eerily similar, is the story of thirteen-year-old Ryan Halligan of Essex Junction, Vermont. Ryan had struggled during his early years in school and had self-esteem issues as a result. Beginning in the fifth grade, he was bullied by another boy in school. The bullying persisted until seventh grade when Ryan was able to fend for himself during a physical altercation with the bully. After that, Ryan and the bully became “friends” and Ryan revealed potentially embarrassing confidences to the boy. The boy then revealed these stories to classmates via the Internet, starting rumors about Ryan’s sexual orientation.
Later that summer, Ryan began chatting on-line with one of the most popular girls in school. Like Megan Meier, he felt comfortable enough with the girl to discuss topics that he would not necessarily want others to know about. When the school year began, Ryan approached the girl only to be rejected in front of her friends. She informed Ryan that the on-line relationship had been a joke, and that she had shared the contents of their chats with her friends. Unable to deal with the humiliation, Ryan committed suicide” (Halligan).
These are extremes but far from unique examples of devastation wrought by cyber bullying. Since Halligan and Meiers’s death, more and more children are logging onto the internet, so it’s likely that online bullying, including sending threatening messages, displaying private messages and posting embarrassing video and photos online, is also increasing. There are no laws that specifically address cyber bullying. Cyber bullying offences can fall under other laws depending on the state. Victims of cyber bullying should not respond to the cyber bully, as the situation can escalate into serious incidents offline. Keeping electronic and printed evidence to document incidents and reporting serious incidents to law enforcement officials is recommended.
What can you do to protect yourself and your family from the consequences of cyber bullying? First, get involved with your child’s online activities. Require that all passwords be divulged to you, and make it a policy to audit regularly. If your child has an online web page, such as those on MySpace, visit it often to see what he or she is posting. This includes both the parents of the bullies and the victims. Next, there needs to be frank talk to other parents about what is going on in your child’s “online” life. You would be surprised how much other parents could tell you about your own child. Finally, if your child is bullying someone, make sure he knows the potential educational, criminal or financial consequences of such behavior.
If you discover that your child is a victim of bullying, consider having her see a counselor to ensure that there are no issues that would cause her to crack under the pressure. Although most kids are able to live through the ordeal, there are some kids such as Megan and Ryan who may have underlying issues that need to be addressed (Curier). Finally, if your child is being ridiculed for an issue that could be easily improved with the proper attention, parents should not delay in getting help for the youngster. This issue is not going away, and begs for much more attention and a host of solutions to cease what is definitely one of the most troubling trends of our times.
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