Cyber-bullying: With digital age comes digital crime

This post was authored by Theresa Neumann and posted to The Eye Opener on November 12th, 2010.

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Update (Brian Nash): This morning, May 23, 2011, I saw a tweet linking to news that First Lady, Michelle Obama, is joining Maryland’s Judge O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in a visit this week to a local Maryland school, Central Middle School in Edgewater, to get the word out on an anti-bullying campaign.

Great work and an important message that needs to keep being delivered! The President and First Lady are using Facebook to get their anti-bullying message out there as well.

Wanting to do my (little) part in getting this message out there, I thought I’d re-post this blog from last November for those who may have missed it on the first time. Spread the word; let’s give a hand to all who work so hard to rid society of this dangerous blight.

Original Post:

Digital media is everywhere, and social networking is totally “in” among our youth as well as adults.  As with every advancement in technology, one is faced with the new problems that accompany that technology. With the advent of personal computers, “hacking” became the big cyber-crime followed by sexual predation.  There have been a multitude of movies in which the plots focus on computer-hacking or on-line dating, and there are plenty of songs referencing cell phones and on-line technology.

We are in the digital age, and with that we are experiencing new and more ominous digital crime that is involving our youth and resulting in the premature death of beloved children.

October, 2006, Megan Meier (age 14) committed suicide after being bullied on MySpace by a supposed friend and the friend’s mother.  In June of 2008, Tomohiro Kato rented a truck and drove into the crowded “geek district” of Tokyo where he proceeded to stab 17 unknown people, killing 7 and injuring 10, because he was being harassed on-line for his ideas and electronic postings on social websites.  This year, beginning in January, a beautiful 15 year-old Irish immigrant, Phoebe Prince, committed suicide after being blatantly harassed by her peers, both outwardly in school and on-line, in Massachusettes.  Two months later, on March 21, 2010, Alexis Pilkington (17yrs) committed suicide after being harassed on a social networking site; she was a good student and soccer “star” in Long Island who had received a college scholarship for soccer.  On September 9, 2010, Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old Indiana student, committed suicide after being blatantly harassed on-line and in school for presumed homosexuality.  The most recent case involved a Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi (18yrs); he committed suicide after his college roommate illegally videotaped a homosexual encounter and posted it on the internet.  These are a few of the more publicized cases, but, cyber-bullying is much more pervasive in our youth.

Each of these cases represents an unnecessary loss of life prompted by children or young adults, facilitated by the use of digital technology.  The hatefulness and utter meanness of the offending children is astounding.  Bullying has been around for ages, and unfortunately, it is part of human nature, evolution and survival of the fittest.  The problem has become the pervasiveness of digital media in our lives, the anonymnity allowed by it and the ease and speed of which information can be disseminated world-wide.  It used to be that the bullying could be left on the playground at school, and/or that school administrators were more apt to intervene if approached with the problem; neither of these conditions seem to exist anymore.  Compound these issues with the virtual isolation these digital media promote, the often-times dysfunctional family unit (divorce, re-marriage, single-parenting, and even the need for both parents to work full-time), the relative independence of our youth, and the relative insensitivity of our youth to violence and sexually explicit material.

Steve Williams posted an article about Billy Lucas’ death on the organization, Care 2 Make a Difference (www.care2.com) which sited the following statistics related to suicide from the Trevor Project:

  • In the United States, more than 34,000 people die by suicide each year (2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC).
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, accounting for over 12% of deaths in this age group; only accidents and homicide occur more frequently (2006 National Adolescent Health Information).
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses (2008 CDC).
  • For every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made (2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey).
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts 2007 Youth Risk Survey).
  • More than 1/3 of LGB youth report having made a suicide attempt (D’Augelli AR - Clinical Child Psychiatry and Psychology 2002)
  • Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt (Grossman AH, D’Augelli AR - Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior2007)
  • Questioning youth who are less certain of their sexual orientation report even higher levels of substance abuse and depressed thoughts than their heterosexual or openly LGBT-identified peers (Poteat VP, Aragon SR, et al – Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology2009)

Children in this age group, despite their outward mature appearance in today’s world, remain emotionally and intellectually immature.  The teenage human body goes through enormous hormonal changes during this period which compounds emotional lability.  The onslaught of hurtful and demoralizing comments, whether by text-messaging, emails, or social networking sites, can be quite devastating to one’s sense of self and integrity.  The speed at which such information, whether true or false, can disseminate and build momentum amongst peer groups can become overwhelming for the immature psyche, while suggestions to “kill yourself” or threats of murderous intent might just push that individual “over the edge”.

Just last week, Medscape posted an interview with  Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP, (a pediatrician, health journalist, chief executive officer of Pediatrics Now (www.pediatricsnow.com), an online health and communications company, and the author of Cybersafe: Protecting and Empowering Digital Kids in the World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media ). In the interview, Dr. O’Keeffe defined cyber-bullying, offering suggestions for parents and even medical health providers for monitoring child behaviors and usage of these digital medias, as well as the effects on the individual’s psyche.  Legislation is being discussed on ways to punish these crimes, but the first-line protection begins in the home.  The Massachusettes Attorney General’s Office also displays a page on its website devoted to the topic; it is unclear whether this appeared before or after the Phoebe Prince tragedy, but it is there nonetheless.  One can only hope that changes can be made before those suicide statistics increase exponentially.

I leave you with one of my childhood teachings that I only wish was held in high regard in today’s society:  ”If you cannot say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Related Post (update):

I also came across a post entitled Stopping Cyberbullying: Who’s Responsible? – Interesting read!

Credit to news.cnet.com for photo

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6 Responses to “Cyber-bullying: With digital age comes digital crime”

  1. Judge TomNo Gravatar says:

    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

  2. Brian NashNo Gravatar says:

    Judge Tom

    First of all my apology for taking so long to get this posted. Spam (even with a good filter) is a major problem, so I delay the posting of comment to keep spam off our site. In your case, I unfortunately let the weekend get in the way of posting your comment. So – again – so sorry for the delay. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and links. Kudos to you and those like you, who are actively working on this critically important project.

    I invite all our readers to visit your links. I know I’ll be visiting them.

    The internet and cell phones are such wide-open media for cyber thugs to do their thing. We all know from our own youth just how vicious some teens can be. This seems to have gone to a whole new level with instant, wide-spread access via the internet and cell phones. We will continue to keep an eye on this issue and most certainly invite you and others to visit us again with any insights, comments or suggestions you may have.

    Finally – it seems to me that awareness by parents, schools, friends – whoever – of what is happening WHEN it’s happening is critical in these situations. I suspect there’s peer pressure to just let this nonsense play out without telling a parent, a teacher, law enforcement – but maybe through efforts by people such as you, the word can get out that this is NOT a funny, acceptable or trivial event and needs to be reported – before it’s too late.

  3. Brian NashNo Gravatar says:

    Came across this anti-bullying ad posted by one of my friends on her Facebook wall. http://bit.ly/92oDPN

    What do you think? Are these effective?

  4. [...] was born from new technologies popular with post-millennial youth, including text messaging and social networking on sites like [...]

  5. peter gerard scully…

    [...]Michelle Obama joins Maryland judge and politician in campaign against bullying | Eye Opener: The Nash & Associates Blog | %post_tags%[...]…

  6. Ravinder Tulsiani (Keep Kids Safe Online Tips/Articles)…

    [...]Michelle Obama joins Maryland judge and politician in campaign against bullying | Eye Opener: The Nash & Associates Blog | %post_tags%[...]…

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