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Cyberbullying: Classroom Harassment Goes High-Tech

By — Committee for Children
Updated on Mar 9, 2012

Consider how often you use the Internet or a cell phone. Over the last decade, technology has become ingrained in our daily lives, changing the way we work, communicate, and seek information or entertainment. At schools across the country, many students are accessorized with the latest cell phones and iPods. Children are especially tech-savvy, having grown up alongside computers, the Internet, and cell phones, and many connect with friends several times a day through email, text messages, Web sites, or instant messaging. But along with the convenience and communication that these high-tech innovations provide, the potential for negative experiences has also emerged.

A New Arena for Bullying

Cyberbullying is using technology to threaten, insult, or harass. These technologies allow for aggressive expression toward others that doesn’t rely on physical strength or even physical contact. Armed with a cell phone or the Internet, a child who cyberbullies can quickly and aggressively spread rumors, threats, hate mail, or embarrassing photos through text messages, emails, or instant messages.

Today, anyone with access to the Internet or a cell phone has the tools to cause harm. Anonymity can be a critical factor; it’s much easier for those who cyberbully to harass when they are able to hide their identities with false screen names or temporary email addresses. In other cases, the targets have never had any previous interaction with their aggressors, or only know them through online communication.

Although traditionally a child who bullies may target another child at school in front of a handful of classmates, the potential audience for someone who cyberbullies is much wider. Humiliating messages can be posted online for hundreds or thousands to see on websites, blogs, or social network sites such as Facebook.

The Social and Emotional Cost

Those who cyberbully and their targets may suffer socially, emotionally, and academically. “Bullying in general has negative health and social consequences,” says Dr. Michele Ybarra, Ph.D., a recognized researcher in web-related health issues for young people and president of the nonprofit Internet Solutions for Kids, Inc. “Bullying is an important public health issue—whether it happens at home, at school or online—and it’s behavior that should not be tolerated.”

As with traditional bullying, cyberbullying incidents can be very distressing and upsetting for some youth. Symptoms of depression have been noted among some targets of cyberbullying, says Dr. Ybarra. She notes that those who bully are not immune to personal issues and challenges such as poor parent-child relationships, delinquent behaviors, and substance use. Research indicates that those who bully and are bullied in traditional environments appear to be at greatest risk of experiencing problems in school, difficulty making friends, loneliness, and problem behaviors such as smoking and drinking. It’s possible that similar characteristics are true for youth who bully and are bullied online as well, but research remains to be done in this area, says Dr. Ybarra.

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