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New Report Sheds Light on Cyberbullying

The case of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince has underscored what is becoming an increasing problem: bullying has gone digital.  Prince, if you recall, was the young girl who’d moved from Ireland to Massachusetts and was cyber taunted in the days before she took her own life in January.  Although an extreme case, the event should give parents pause.

A new study currently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health underscores just how pervasive cyber-bullying has become.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of health and led by Ronald J. Iannoti, whose team surveyed 7,500 schoolchildren.  What the investigators discovered is that that those who are targets of cyber-bullying are more likely to feel depressed, isolated, and “dehumanized” after becoming targets.

Cyber abuse comes in the form of text messages and social networking sites such as Facebook and to completely get away from it, a teenager would have to get rid of his or her phone and computer, something that could easily leave them feeling even more isolated.

Although many of us remember horrifying and harrowing incidents from early adolescence, teenagers today are experiencing something even more menacing.   According to the study investigators, traditional bullying caused both the tormentor and the victim to feel depressed.  With cyber bullying, the victim is much more likely to report feeling depressed.
Iannotti states, “The fact that the audience can be quite broad is a concern.”  He further reports that victims may not actually know who’s sending the message, nor do they know how many people may have seen it.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a nonprofit organization devoted to researching electronic harassment and it’s consequences, the phenomenon is still being defined and expanded as other forms of electronic abuse, such as sexting, electronic dating violence, and impersonation continue to “grace” the digital stage.

In order to mitigate bullying risks, www.ourkids.net suggests the following strategies for parents to implement:

*Be a good netizen (internet citizen)
*Understand what should and should not be posted online.
*Create online time limits
*Keep computers in a common area
*Stay up to date. 
*Beware of the people kids meet online
*Accompany kids when they want to meet “virtual” friends
*Encourage kids to report inappropriate sites and emails
*If there’s a problem, do not overreact

As is the case with most issues involving teenagers, parental influence can greatly impact outcomes.