In October of 2010, authorities recovered the body of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate and another college classmate allegedly placed a camera in his dorm room and streamed his sexual encounter with another male online.
A month prior, 11-year old Ty Smalley, committed suicide after being excessively bullied at school.
One in five youths between age 10 and 18 have been a victim of cyberbullying or participated in cyberbullying, according to a survey of 4,400 children conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization tracking the internet bullying trend. This figure is conservative, because children are often afraid to come forward to their parents, bullying experts say.
Cyberbullying can take on various forms, from a middle-schooler firing a hurtful text message to high school teens harassing a boyfriend or girlfriend online. The National Crime Prevention Councildefines cyberbullying — a term practically nonexistent more than a decade ago — as what “happens when teens use the internet, cell phones, or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”
“It’s a daily nightmare,” said Alexandra Penn, founder of Champions Against Bullying, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, California, that provides resources for reducing incidences of traditional and internet bullying in schools. “There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”
Cyberbullying has detrimental effects on its victims.
- In schoolyard bullying, at least the victim knows he/she will be safe at home. But with cyberbullying, even your home can be a prison. Recent research posted in a special report by CNN says a child who had experienced cyberbullying from someone anonymous “may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack,” according a study from the National Institutes of Health.
- The perpetrators of cyberbullying are comfortable, and sometimes anonymous, hiding behind their computer. So the attacks on the victim are brutal. Messages posted on the internet are often permanent and difficult to remove. With one click of a mouse, comments can reach hundreds or thousands of students.
- The perpetrators of cyberbullying are harder to catch.
How to protect your children from cyberbullying:
- Talk to your kids. Ask them open-ended questions like “When was the last time someone sent you a nasty email?”, “Who at your school is being bullied? When have you been bullied?”, “What do you do when you see someone being bullied? What do you do when you are bullied?” Keep in mind that kids are typically bullied 5-times as much as they we willing to admit to their parents. So if they say they have been bullied once, then that is a good sign that they are being bullied regularly – and it’s time to be supportive and take action.
- Check their Facebook and email accounts. As long as you have good intentions, you wholeheartedly want to protect them and your child is a minor, then don’t fear privacy issues. Know what dialogue they are receiving from their peers – and what dialogue they are dishing out to others.
- Currently, there are no laws protecting the victims of bullying – unless, of course, they are murdered. Unfortunately, schools haven’t proven to take harsh action against bullies either. It is truly up to the parents to prevent and stop bullying. If your child is being bullied, sit down face-to-face with the bully and his/her parents and firmly say, “This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated again. One more incident and I will go to the authorities.”
- Most bullies don’t act alone. Teach your kids the importance of standing up to bullies if they are ever being coerced into co-bullying or witness bullying. Witnesses to bullying have the power to stop the bully and protect the victim – but far too many times the witnesses do nothing. Teach your kids to “do the right thing”.
A teenage victim of bullying, Joey Kemmerling said in an interview with CNN, “You feel so helpless, and day in and day out you’re being called something, and they’re telling you the same message: ‘Your life is worthless.’ And you start to believe it.”
“I believed that I did not deserve to live,” the teen added.
Joey’s mother said it was his decision to fight back against bullying online that really started to turn the tide. He began a Facebook page for bullying victims to share their stories, which has since grown into a nonprofit called the Equality Project with close to 6,000 members.
We should never have to lose another teenager or young adult to bullying ever again. But it will take our entire communities fighting back to make bullying history. Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?