Generation Geek: The Effects of Cyberbullying

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(Generation Geek is a new, ongoing series on JustUs Geeks that focuses on families in the new geek culture. Look for more Generation Geek articles in the future!)

It all starts with just a word. Maybe a “harmless” tweet that suddenly goes viral. It could be a picture, or a comment left on a status. What do all these things have in common?

All of them are methods of cyberbullying.

Those immersed in the tech world aren’t new to cyberbullying; it’s a term we’ve been hearing for awhile. But, it’s only in the last few years that this particular form of bullying has picked up. This week, an infographic has popped up on the internet showing some pretty frightening statistics on this growing phenomenon:

Cyberbullying Infographic
Source: OnlineCollege.org

Some of the scary statistics that stuck out to me:

  • 42% of tech-accessible teens report being subject to cyberbulling in the past year. ALMOST HALF.
  • An average teens sends almost 60 texts per day, with 14-17 year old girls sending an average of 100.
  • 7.5 million users of Facebook are under 13. 1 in 10 of those report being bullied, which equals 800,000 kids.
  • 81% of teens say that cyberbulling is easier to get away with than real bullying.
  • 3 million teens are absent from school each month nationwide because they fear bullies.
  • Bullied kids are twice as likely to commit suicide.
  • With the growth of internet and tech consumption, so came the growth of suicide rates, rising as much at 76% between 1985 and 2007 in girls 10-14
  • 90% of teens who witness cyberbullying don’t report it.

You may think this isn’t a problem, but it is. And, unlike other problems that we could potentially remove from our culture, this isn’t a problem that’s going away. It’s growing. As we become more and more of a technologically based society, the problem of cyberbullying will only increase, unless people are educated about it. The anonymity of a computer screen or smartphone is just too alluring to some people who take it upon themselves to use their newfound facelessness to run others down and make their lives living hells.

This issue hits home for me because I was the subject of intense bullying as a child in elementary school. I can only think what it would’ve been like if our world had been more connected to technology like it is now. For those on the other side of the computer screen, the ones throwing the insults, posting the pictures, smearing the reputations, it’s easy. A couple of taps on the keyboard or screen and they have done their damage with no fear of backlash. As the parent of small children, the reality that my children will grow up in a culture that, unless something changes, will largely roll over and accept cyberbullying is an unfathomable reality.

So, what do we need to do? If this is reality, and it is, what can we do to fight against it? First, you need to educate yourself. If you are a parent of a teenager, you should be viewing all their social media, including texts, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever other media they use. As long as they live under your roof and you pay their cell phone and internet bills, you should have access to their stuff. But, it doesn’t stop there. Second, you need to talk about it. Yelling at them for cyberbullying, if you find them doing it, won’t stop it. As the parent or guardian, you need to sit them down and explain the effects of it and why it’s wrong. Third, protect your children. If they aren’t old enough for Facebook, DON’T LET THEM SIGN UP! If you don’t want them to use Twitter, keep it off their phones. If you don’t allow them to be a part of social networks until you are sure they are mature enough, then the chances of them being involved in cyberbullying are much less, and by keeping them away from it until they are of the right age, perhaps you are saving them a little heartache, too.

Bottom line, we need to be teaching our kids that technology is not a toy. Sure, an iPod Touch for Christmas might seem like a good gift, but until your child is emotionally mature enough to use it for good and not for evil, it’s not so much of a present they need. In teaching them that technology is not a toy, we also need to teach them that their interactions online need to be just as respectful as those offline. And, that just because it’s digital doesn’t mean that there won’t be real, far reaching affects. Maybe, just maybe, if we start doing that, this world can become a better place.

(Informational Image is courtesy of OnlineCollege.org, the Online College Guide. Please visit their site for more information.)

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