Friday, November 30, 2007


We need to better address the issue of cyberbullying. The media has documented enough cases to show that this type of harassment has inflicted real harm. I’m referring to such atrocities as the suicides of Ryan Halligan -- a New York teen who killed himself after a fellow 8th grader started a fake relationship online and then rejected him at school (see article); and most recently in the press, Megan Meiers – a 13-year old girl who took her life last year after her virtual (non-existent) MySpace love-interest terminated their friendship (see article) then incited peers to belittle her online.

When it comes to bullying, my generation is far luckier than the generation of my children. Before the Internet boasted a 91% penetration to youth at home, the bully most feared was an angry kid on the playground. Kids today can’t even see their tormentor. Posing online as someone else, the cyberbully spreads rumors and hurtful comments then disappears without a trace.

Cyberbullying is a growing epidemic affecting teens and reaching down to tweens. 10-15 year olds are at the highest risk of being bullied -- whether on the playground or on a social networking site. A new study by Internet Solutions for Kids indicates that 34% of surveyed children in that age bracket have experienced some form of harassment before reaching high school. And the numbers only go up from there with text-messaging and internet access via cell & smart phones. (see statistics from U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Most stunning to me, is the fact that more often than not, cyberbullies are girls hurting another girl. One article I read stated that “it’s becoming common practice for such information as descriptions, addresses and daily activities to be sent to known sexual predators in the hope that the girl the bully decided needs to be taught a lesson will literally be raped.” (see article)

Worse yet, the victims have little to no criminal recourse at present. While more communities have been pushing to make online harassment a Class B misdemeanor -- punishable by a fine of up to $500-dollars and 90-days in jail –that hardly has the proverbial “teeth” to take a bite of this type of crime.

A more wide-spread approach to formulating law around cyberbullying is proving to be tricky. Lawmakers have to consider First Amendment issues, the spirit of the Internet, and the more obvious culprit – human nature itself.

Perhaps it’s not surprise that statistically speaking, 60% of bullies will be convicted of a crime by the age of 24. Let’s stop them now! Push for meaningful legislature. Get your voice out there & be heard!

It takes a village to raise a child. Parents, siblings, friends, mentors, and neighbors, need to be a support system for today’s youth. Kids need kudos which includes the investment of our time and most of all our love.

Between now and the time we toughen the penalties for those who use the Internet to prey on our children. Be aware that the emotional response your children might display as cyberbully victims may include: (i) social anxiety; (ii) loneliness; (iii) social withdrawal; (iv) physical illness; (v) low self esteem; (vi) phobias; (vii) aggressive behavior; (viii) depression; and (ix) dropping grades (see article).

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