Cyberbullying reaches new level

In the span of just two weeks, two promising young men have taken their own lives as a result of peer cruelty.

Tyler Clementi, a young violinist attending Rutgers University, jumped off of a bridge last week after a recording showing him having a sexual encounter with another male was broadcast online.  Clementi’s roommate, Dhraun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex on September 19; Ravi also posted content on his Twitter account announcing the encounter to his followers.

Asher Brown, 13, shot himself in the head last week, picked on for his small size, his religion and because he didn’t dress like the other kids.  Articles have also reported that kids accused Brown of being gay, and some of them performed mock day acts on him during class.  The last known round of humiliation occurred when another student tripped Brown as he walked down a flight of stairs at school; when Brown hit the stairway landing and went to retrieve his book bag, the other student kicked his books everywhere and kicked Brown down the remaining flights of stairs.

These heartbreaking stories testify to the crippling impact of intense bullying — both offline and online. We see once again that the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is simply wrong.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Youth around the world are being unnecessarily harassed, tormented, targeted and abused through especially cruel words, actions, blogs, videos and photos meant to embarrass, demean, exclude and hurt, and bullies today have the benefit of technology to virally spread their harmful messages.  One out of four kids is being bullied and 42% of kids have been bullied while online. And unlike schoolyard bullying, cyberbullying continues 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  Like any form of bullying, these harmful interactions are etched into a child’s memory banks, and there is no escaping the short-term or long-term consequences.

Technology, despite its many wonderful benefits, has escalated the scale of bullying activities and the active and bystander audiences involved in these events.  Bystanders are not only those kids and teens witnessing their peers being bullied in the hallways at school, but with the web, they include the silent audience online that has access to the trauma another kid or teen is suffering.  Individuals, for instance, who watched the live feed provided by Ravi, and who did nothing, sent a strong message to Ravi that his behavior was acceptable.  Kids today have easy access to millions of videos broadcasting violence, hate acts, sexually violent and degrading content — much of which exhibits positive reviews, hundreds and thousands of plays, and encouraging viewer comments.  Many kids also show signs of disinhibition and callousness as they communicate through the computer screen and mobile phone; without real face-to-face time, conversations escalate quickly and things are said that would never be said to a person’s face.

We all engaged in small acts of incivility when we were growing up, learning what was right and what was wrong, but for kids today, many of their indiscretions occur online, in a very public and permanent environment.  And in the online world, many of our kids lack the positive role models, parental support and guidance, and boundaries that they have in the offline world, creating new and strained rules of virtual world norms that make being a bully or being bullied far more efficient.  We need to honor these teenagers by working together to create a more supportive, safe and ethical community, both online and offline.

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  • jackie8

    Stories like this are a real tragedy, I cant start to imagine what the parents are living through right now.

    As parents, we have to realize that we are the first generation of Internet parents. And most parents dont know of the dangers online let alone how to address them. Childrens online world, as this tragedy shows, spills over (and is one) with the childs real life.

    After reading many (too too many) similar articles to this one and after seeing the dateline show ‘To catch a predator’ we decided to do something about this and launched a service with a focus on making it easy to use, where parents can ‘know’ what their children are getting up to online – in real time.

    The service is called 8snaps.com. Our vision is to equip every parent in the world with a very easy and inexpensive way to know what their child is being subjected to online. To deter them from being hurt from dangers such as cyber bullying, sexual predators, etc.

    Hope you can try it out and if you like it promote it to your friends.

  • bigsigh

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. I almost didn’t read it because I assumed you would be advocating some sort of legislation which would only allow parents to ignore their responsibility. Personal responsibilty is the only cure for most of the ills we face in today’s culture.

  • rowdygirl

    I haven’t really seen anyone address the real problem: the parents. Yes, it’s mentioned here but the truth of the matter is that kids today are being raised (if you want to call it that) in an increasing narcissistic society. It’s all about me, and what I can get and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt as long as I have my way. Where is the parenting and guidance that would teach a child that this type of behavior is not only wrong, but that it shouldn’t even exist? to think that these young people didn’t even see the harm in what they did; that they didn’t even CONSIDER how humiliating and devastating it could be, is almost too much to comprehend. To make matters worse, I DO believe that they knew how awful it would be and they DID IT ANYWAY because they had no concern for another human being. There is nothing that anyone can say to make this ok… they willingly chose to violate someone’s privacy for a laugh and to have a good time. I hope their parents can live with themselves since they’re ultimately responsible for raising these individuals.

  • angelmyheart

    After 23 years in juvenile court, I believe that teenagers often learn from the experiences of their peers, not just from being lectured by those in authority. Consequently, “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” was published in January, 2010.
    Endorsed by Dr. Phil on April 8, 2010 [“Bullied to Death” show], “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” presents real cases of teens in trouble over their online and cell phone activities. Civil & criminal sanctions have been imposed on teens over their emails, blogs, text and IM messages, Facebook entries and more. TCI is interactive and promotes education & awareness so that our youth will begin to “Think B4 U Click.”
    Thanks for looking at “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” on http://www.freespirit.com [publisher] or on http://www.askthejudge.info [a free website for & about teens and the law].

    Regards, -Judge Tom