America’s cyberbullying epidemic

CyberbullyingBy Kimberly Toillion

Cyberbullying has become an all too familiar term in an age where the Internet is an ingrained part of our daily lives. The Pew Research Center—an established nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization—concluded its online harassment study this October. The study did not define harassment, but rather asked 2,894 participants if they had been subjected to any of the following: physical threats, harassment for a sustained period, stalking, offensive names, purposeful embarrassment or sexual harassment. The study concluded 73 percent had witnessed online harassment. An even larger group, 92 percent admit it easier to be critical online versus in-person. The most poignant result: four out of ten individuals have been harassed online. The age group most often harassed are young adults between the ages of 18 to 29. Two-thirds of all online harassment takes place on social networking sites.

According to bullyingstatistics.org—an online bullying prevention resource—over half of the teen population has been cyber-bullied. Even more surprising, nearly half of all teens have participated in cyberbullying. Of those cyber-bullied, 10 to 20 percent are regularly bullied. Half of all kids harassed online will not disclose the problem to their parents. cyberbullying may look different for teenagers. Rumors may start and spread through texts. Social networking accounts may be hacked in order to impersonate the bullied teen. Unwanted photographs may circulate. Parents or guardians should educate themselves to better offer support. Discourage teens from sharing personal information and passwords.

Facebook has implemented a cyberbullying prevention program. The program includes an 80-person team and a report button which enables users to report offensive posts. Recently, big names like actress Julia Roberts and Monica Lewinsky have been in the spotlight with their own anti-bullying crusades. In September, Taylor Swift—bullied as a teen herself—reached out via Twitter to a bullied, teen fan. Among other content, Swift wrote, “People cut other people down for entertainment, amusement, out of jealousy, because of something broken inside them. Or for no reason at all.”

According to the CDC (The Center for Disease Control and Prevention), bullied adolescents are more likely to develop lasting emotional and physical issues which include: adjustment difficulties, depression, anxiety and sleep problems. The CDC also reports suicide is the third leading cause of death for age group 15 to 24. A Yale University study revealed young people bullied were two to nine times more likely to commit suicide.

Rebecca Ann Sedwick was one young person from a long list of entirely too many young individuals who took their lives, because cyberbullying became too unbearable. Sedwick stands out, as she was only 12-years-old. Through a mobile phone app the 12-year-old had 15 middle school girls urging her to kill herself. When Sedwick’s mother noticed issue, she attained counseling for her daughter, but the online attacks were relentless. Sedwick climbed an abandoned cement plant and leapt to her death. In 2013, Sedwick’s suicide led Florida legislators to pass a law that makes it easier to obtain felony convictions in cyberbullying cases.  If you are being bullied and are feeling hopeless or know someone who needs help, please call 1-800-273-TALK or visit stopbullying.gov for more resources.

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