Cyberbullying: Digital Persecution on the Rise

Written by Christina Lorella

Throughout my early education, I can remember at least one “bully” figure in each of my classes. I am certain that many of you can do the same.  It was inevitable for there to be at least one person who suffered such inherent insecurities that they felt the need to backlash at the expense of others. Today, bullying has reached a new extreme; it has gone digital.

Parents can no longer rely on the physical signs of bullying to determine whether or not their child is being subjected to harmful relationships with their peers. Instead, a large percentage of today’s youth is targeted by cyberbullying, a digital form of persecution.

With these types of harassment, there are no black eyes, no stolen book bags, and no bruises.  Rather, the students face a harsher reality; cyberbullying is widespread and often times irreversible.

This phenomenon is common not just in high schools, but at the elementary and middle school levels, as well.  Typically, the harassing is more common amongst middle school students and has a tendency to become less frequent as students age and begin to realize the consequences behind their actions. However, when the persecution occurs at older ages, the levels of harassment and cruelty are often intensified.

According to I-SAFE America, a non-profit foundation whose mission is to educate and empower youth to make their internet experiences safe and responsible, “58 percent of kids [between fourth and eighth grade] admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online.”  Children are sending harassing emails and instant messages, degrading their peers in chat rooms, even creating websites that provoke entire communities of students to humiliate others.

While that statistic is shocking, we must also remember that cyberbullying extends beyond just the internet.  With an increasing number of children with cell phones, degrading text messages and photographs are being transferred at inconceivable rates.

In 2007, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) investigated the issue. Through their nationwide study, they found that 43 percent of all teens between the ages of 13 and 17 had been victims of cyberbullying at least once within the last year.  Sadly, the teens were “twice as likely to talk to a friend about the incident” than to talk to with their parents or another adult.

In fact, according to I-SAFE, only 15 percent of all the parents polled in their survey were aware of cyberbullying and what it entails.

As a parent myself, it is often easy to say, “my child would never do that.”  Unfortunately, cyberbullying has become such a trend that, according to statistics gathered by I-SAFE, nearly 70 percent of students in eighth grade admitted saying hurtful or angry things to another person in digital form.

When asked “why” the students surveyed seemed to think lightly of the topic.  The NCPC reported that 81 percent believed the bullying to be funny, 64 percent simply didn’t like the person being targeted, and another forty percent engaged in cyberbullying because they “viewed the victim as a loser.” Six out of ten teens agreed that they didn’t believe the bullying was a “big deal.” Forty-Seven percent “didn’t perceive any tangible consequences.”

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Children often times forget to consider how their actions of today can impact their futures of tomorrow.  When children send derogatory messages, they don’t always think about the consequences.  So, what are the potential consequences of such actions?

A perpetrator can be criminally prosecuted for defamation of character and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress. If any sort of physical threats were made, criminal charges are likely. Also, there is a high likelihood that an order of protection would issued to protect the victim from any further harm.  These orders become public information and can remain on a person’s record permanently, potentially preventing the perpetrator from getting hired at many jobs or from being admitted to a variety of colleges.

Additionally, even if the harassment took place off campus, students involved in cyberbullying are at high risk for suspension or expulsion from their current schools.

I urge you to protect your children from cyberbullying, whether they are the victim or the perpetrator. This is an issue that can be corrected with proper education and with the support of parents and other trusted adults.  Get involved in your child’s life and provide
a safe haven for discussion.

To learn more about the topic, please visit Civilination, a cybercivility nonprofit organization which believes in “taking a stand for civil digital discourse.” They provide helpful insight, resources, and tools inthe fight against cyberbullying.

Another great resource for parents and teens alike is the National Crime Prevention Association’s Cyberbullying website. Here, people can find information about preventing online persecution, as well as what to do when it does occur.

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