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The heartbreaking recent suicide of 12 year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick, who tragically took her own life after being the victim of cyberbullying, and last month’s devastating news of the suicide of British teen Hannah Smith, and the suicide of Canadian teen Rehtaeh Parsons‘, both attributed to the online torment they suffered, has put cyberbullying in headline news. However, cyberbullying is not a new phenomenon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cyberbullying, also known as Internet harassment, Internet bullying or electronic aggression: “Any type of harassment or bullying (teasing, telling lies, making fun of someone, making rude or mean comments, spreading rumors, or making threatening or aggressive comments) that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs and social media site), or text messaging,” and it has been happening for years to kids all over the world. In fact, about 9 to 35% of all youth are suspected victims of cyberbullies, though it’s also assumed that this form of bullying is extremely under-reported. To put these figures into perspective, a Consumer Reports 2011 survey found that about one million U.S. children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook alone in just one year. Because cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the impact can be even more stressful and longer-lasting than face-to-face bullying. Some of the known consequences of cyberbullying include:
- Youth who are cyberbullied are signi?cantly more likely to use alcohol and drugs.
- Bullied youth are more likely to receive school detention or suspension and skip school.
- Youth who are cyberbullied are more likely to experience in-person victimization.
- Bullied youth have lower self-esteem.
- There’s a strong link between cyberbullying and suicide.
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The statistics on bullying and suicide are terrifying if you’re a parent. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth, which results in around 4,400 deaths per year. Plus, for every successful suicide among youth, there are another 100 suicide attempts. Kids who are bullied, either in-person or on the Internet are up to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than their peers — and some studies note that while bullying happens to both boys and girls, 10 to 14 year old girls may be at an even higher risk for suicide than other kids. While many parents think all kids need tech 24/7, research like this shows just how detrimental being plugged in all day long can be for kids. Plus, while bullying online and off grows in scope each year, many parents and teachers still chalk bullying up to “kids being kids” so bullying victims often get ignored as overly sensitive or adults consider it a non-issue, when really bullying is a devastating problem that really needs attention. Additionally, parents and teachers worry less about the kids who bully than the kids being bullied, but being a bully is also risky. Kids who are bullies, even younger kids, have been killed by their victims and being a bully is also linked to a higher rate of suicide than kids who don’t bully.
If you’re concerned about cyberbullying, the best thing you can do it limit screen time, teach your child what’s appropriate and what’s not when it comes to social media, blogs and texts, and most importantly, be sure you know what’s going on in your child’s web-based world. Too often parents are afraid to intervene because, “Kids deserve privacy.” This is true. Kids need some freedom, but the freedom to be bullied or to be the bully are not part of the privileges kids, or anyone of any age deserves. If you have no idea about the emails, texts or blogs your kid is involved with, you’re leaving a lot up to chance. Check out the resources below for more help.
- Protecting your Child from Electronic Aggression
- Electronic Media and Youth Violence — A CDC Issue Brief
- Cyberbullying 101
- How to talk to your kids about bullying
- Preventing Cyberbullying
- Teaching kids not to bully