According to a Michigan State University study published in the journal International Criminal Justice Review, children who are cyberbullied are just as likely to skip school and think about suicide as those who have been physically threatened. The study also revealed that younger students and girls are more likely to consider suicide when the are threatened via text or Facebook.
Rebecca Sedwick fit both demographics — she was only 12 years old, and she was, of course, female.
As you may recall, “Becca” is the young girl who was cyberbullied by as many as 15 adolescent girls for over a year and who ultimately committed suicide; yesterday the Polk County Sheriff’s office in Florida announced that two girls, aged 12 and 14 were arrested on felony aggravated cyberstalking charges. More arrests may be forthcoming.
Times, they Have Changed
Rebecca’s story, in all of it’d sadness, emphasizes just how much the world has changed over the last ten years. When my two oldest children were teens, cyberbullying was a non-issue. By the time my two youngest children reached junior high and high school, texting and social media was too knew for any of us to comprehend the potential dangers. Even at this point spell check does not yet recognize the word “cyberbully.”
In an interview published by Mentalhelp.net, Joannie Gillespie, PhD and author of “Cyber.Rules: What you Really Need to Know about the Internet“, online access has created an entirely new way for children to experience the world, and it can be harmful. Because virtual access is virtually limitless, children today perceive a sense of power that children a decade ago couldn’t have fathomed.
But this other worldliness that children are increasingly engaged in may keep developmentally awkward as far as social, face-to-face long term relationships are concerned. And because internet interaction is more aggressive, children act more impulsively and ultimately may engage in risky behavior, such as cyberbullying, sexual promiscuity, and other activities they normally would not take part in.
Bullying expert Dr. Susan Swearer emphasizes that parents MUST put parameters and limitations on how much online time is allowed in the home. When speaking to parents about the subject, she asks, “Would you let your child walk alone in a dark alley?” She then explains that this is exactly what we are doing if we don’t monitor texting and social media interaction.
Becoming Internet Savvy
The fact is, even with careful monitoring, your child may still become a target. A study conducted in Seoul, South Korea discovered that teens who are bullied suffer a great deal of trauma that may be characterized by high levels of constant stress, anxiety, fear or nightmares. Additionally, kids who blame themselves for the bullying are more likely to become obsessed by the situation and may incessantly ruminate over it.
If your child does become a victim, it’s important help them understand that the situation is not hopeless; there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the damage.
Authorities investigating Rebecca’s death say the entries in her diary were “heartbreaking” and that she obviously felt defeated – such feelings of hopelessness can ultimately lead to disaster, as they did in Rebecca’s case.
The Cyberbullying Research Center suggests proactive strategies and steps that can be proactively undertaken if a child becomes a victim:
- Make sure your children know they can come to you if they are being bullied, that it’s wrong and there are consequences
- Ignore the bully — if they fail to get a reaction from their target they might move on
- Don’t retaliate. Fighting fire with fire can cause things to escalate very quickly
- Tell them to stop
- Laugh. Make light of comments as if you say to the offender, “I know you’re just kidding.”
- Save the evidence. Print off threatening Facebook pages and email messages. Save text messages
In some cases, it becomes necessary to involve law enforcement; in many states, including Florida, cyberbullying isn’t illegal. But cyberstalking is; something Rebecca’s tormentors are now discovering.