It seems that you can’t turn on the news these days without reading stories about teens, mostly girls, committing suicide due to online or cyber-bullying.
Shockingly, a survey of 11-18 year old girls revealed that 39 percent have posted something online they regretted and 37 percent have used Internet sites to make fun of other students, according to www.commonsensemedia.org.
A study by Dr. Justin W. Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, found that 25 percent of students aged 11-18 reported being cyber-bullied.
On Tuesday, Dr. Holly Pedersen, coordinator of the Parents Place Bullying Prevention Program for the San Francisco region, presented these alarming statistics at a cyber-bullying workshop held at Congregation Shir Hadash. She also led a discussion of the causes, prevalence and strategies for prevention and response to cyber-bullying.
About 20 people attended the workshop, including parents, school counselors and educators from Los Gatos. "The primary question or concern that parents had is how would they know if their child was being bullied," Pedersen said.
Unlike physical bullying, today’s targeted children and teens have no safe haven from cyber-bullying because today’s youth are always digitally connected, Pedersen said.
Cyber-bullying includes a wide range of behaviors including:
- Sending mean or threatening messages to a classmate via email, IM, or text messages.
- Spreading rumors about classmates through IM, email, and text messages.
- Sharing photo-shopped or embarrassing photos or videos of classmates with others via a cell phone or the Web, creating Websites –sometimes with password protection to target students and teachers.
- Text wars to create large bills and angry parents.
The anonymity of the Internet and lack of understanding of the impact of the bullying only exacerbates this trend, she said.
Because cyber-bullying takes place away from the watchful eyes of parents, teachers and other responsible adults, it can be hard to detect, she warned.
But there are signs that adults can watch for. And steps that adults and children can take including notifying the Internet service provider and the school, she added.
The impact on the targeted youth includes inability to concentrate in class, feelings of being trapped, low self-esteem and depression; it can result in eating disorders and suicidal thoughts and actions.
Pedersen proposed several tactics for dealing with cyber-bullying, the most important of which is to understand what your children are doing in cyberspace.
Another key recommendation is to teach your children to be "upstanders, not bystanders." That is someone who behaves appropriately in cyberspace and stands up for peers who are being bullied, she said.
A Los Gatos parent who attended the workshop and who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I didn’t know about what kids are doing in cyber-space. Now I know what signs to look for and how to talk to my daughter about cyber-bullying."