Cyberbullying has been in the news a great deal lately. We hear about teen suicides as a result of online badgering and humiliation, and as parents we are constantly told to monitor out kids online activity. Recently, Selena Gomez, an extremely high profile celebrity who usually doesn’t respond to comments on her Instagram account, responded loud and clear to a bully. The follower posted “burn in hell with cancer.” This went a bit too far and Selena took a stand by responding with, “The comment you left about cancer was absurd. How distasteful of a young woman. I have gone through that battle with fans and family members. You can dislike someone but to wish something that could happen to you or your family is uncalled for sweetheart.” This kind of negative comment on your average everyday teens account would surely make him or her feel sad and hurt.
An Albany County, NY law enacted in 2010 prohibited minors from using electronics to spread false, private or sexual information about anyone else. However, the top court in New York State just recently struck down the law that made it a crime. The ruling stated that a large part of the law went beyond cyberbullying and was in violation of our First Amendment rights. While cyberbullying is a serious problem in communities throughout the country, the Civil Liberties Union made the point that making it unlawful doesn’t address the underlying cause so it doesn’t address the root of the problem.
What is “cyberbullying” as opposed to regular old-fashioned bullying you might ask? It’s when a youth is humiliated, threatened, embarrassed or targeted in a negative way by other pre-teens or teens on social media on the Internet, via texting, email or through any other digital technology. It often includes the posting or forwarding of sexually explicit photos, cruel messages or videos. It’s actually an easier way to bully because it’s not face-to-face. Kids can hide behind their screens, in the safety of their own homes and cause emotional distress at the touch of a button.
According to a recent study in Science Daily, hurtful commentary online creates a fear for teens that they will be victimized at school. One study based on approximately 3,500 students between the ages of 12 – 18 across the nation showed that about 7% of students had experienced cyberbullying. In specific areas of the country, it’s much higher. In a 2013 Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report, about 14.1% of 4,000 high school students surveyed said they had been electronically bullied in the past year. 18.9% said they had been bullied on school property in-person. In Hawaii, 1/3 of the kids surveyed said they were cyberbullied online.
Just like in-person bullying, cyberbullying has been associated with low academic performance, alcohol and drugs, and emotional problems with increased risk of suicide. So we are told repeatedly to monitor our child’s online activity, put computers in a high traffic area of the household and read through their text messages every once in a while. However, it’s even more important as a parent to foster empathy so bullying in whatever capacity never starts. Our role as parents is not to constantly spy on our kids, but to set high moral standards from the get go.