Suicide and the Cyberbully

It used to be that bullying meant getting your lunch taken away or getting a nosebleed after school. Today, however, bullying has gone high-tech. “Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen, or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed, or otherwise attacked by another minor through the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, or mobile phones. With their identities hidden behind computer screens, cyberbullies can be harder to catch and sometimes even bolder than their playground predecessors. Sadly, children have even committed suicide after being victims of cyberbullying. Recently, criminal charges were brought against several teenagers in the highly publicized case of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts. The young woman committed suicide in January after enduring incessant bullying, “cyber” and otherwise, from her classmates.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) report that about one in four youth has been involved in bullying in some way. Bullies are considered popular and their victims are at higher risk of committing suicide. Both the aggressor and the victim can suffer from depression, the main cause of suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds. Teenagers are more likely to commit suicide than girls. A CDC study also showed that 14.5 percent of US high school students reported seriously considering suicide in the year prior to the survey, and 6.9 percent said they had attempted suicide one or more times in the same period. Tragically, many children who have been bullied end up taking their own lives.

The incidence of cyber bullying is expected to increase as more children use texting and email as forms of communication. Sue Limber and Robin Kowalski, researchers and professors at Clemson University in South Carolina, recently completed a study of 3,767 sixth through eighth grade students. Some of their findings are as follows:

  • The most common form of cyberbullying is instant messaging.
  • Chat mail and emails closed behind
  • Girls were twice as likely as boys to be victims

i-Safe has surveyed 1500 students from 4th to 8th grade. His sobering statistics indicate:

  • 42% of children have been bullied while online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.
  • 35% of children have been threatened online. Nearly 1 in 5 has had to go through more than once.
  • 21% of children have received emails or other cruel or threatening messages.
  • 58% of children admit that someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 in 10 say it has happened to them more than once.
  • 53% of kids admit to saying something cruel or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done so more than once.
  • 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something bad or hurtful that happened to them online.

It is important for parents to recognize if their child is a bully and/or a victim. Brandy Williams, educator and consultant to Texas public schools lists the signs of both a cyber bully and the victim of cyber bullying.

Signs that your child is a cyber bully

  • Using the computer at all hours of the night.
  • Quickly switch between screens and/or close windows when it happens.
  • The child is unusually upset when unable to use the computer.
  • Avoid discussions about what they are doing online.
  • Laughs excessively while using the computer.
  • He gets irritated if you question them or interrupt their time on the computer.

Signs that your child is being cyberbullied

  • You unexpectedly or suddenly stop using the computer.
  • Appears flustered, flustered, anxious, or scared when an instant message comes on.
  • Disrupts interest in going to school, extracurricular activities, and/or outside activities in general
  • Is visibly angry, frustrated, depressed, or moody after using the computer
  • Becomes abnormally withdrawn and distant from family, friends, and favorite activities
  • Lack of appetite with food in general and specific preferred foods

The following are Tips on cyberbullying for your children:

  • Tell a trusted adult about the bullying and keep telling until you find someone to take action.
  • Do not open or read messages from cyber bullies.
  • Tell a teacher or administrator at your school if you are connected to the school.
  • Do not delete messages ~ they may be necessary to take action.
  • Protect yourself: Never agree to meet face-to-face with someone you meet online.
  • If you are harassed via chat or instant messaging, the “stalker” can often be blocked.
  • If they threaten to harm you, inform the local police.

It is important for adults to become proactive in advocating for change against cyberbullying. Many times, no action is taken until the situation gets out of control. Children are often reluctant to trust parents for fear of retaliation, i.e. losing their “cyber privileges”. Cyberbullies deserve to be punished as a result of their actions. Measures can be taken to collect timestamps on chat sessions and IP addresses. Computer hard drives can be searched to locate hidden IP addresses and chat logs. Sufficient information may be collected to present to school and law enforcement personnel for the purpose of pressing charges. Professional help should also be considered, due to the higher incidence of depression among the bully and the victim. A psychologist can offer a safe haven for children to talk about their fears and concerns. Ultimately, this could lead to saving the lives of both the cyber bully and the cyber victim.

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