They Facebook, Tweet, text, post videos to YouTube and send instant messages. Life on the web is just a fact of life for teenagers. But for them, the fights, the gossip, the name calling and teasing, is not happening in the halls. It’s happening online for everyone to see. “There’s this girl and she had her, someone found out her password for her IM, and said on her status all this bad stuff about her and she came into school and people were like, ‘oh, are you ok?’ and she had no idea it was going on,” said Weymouth 8th grader Amanda Flaherty.
We call it cyberbullying. It’s name calling, rumors and threats. But just take if from the mouths of these Weymouth middle schoolers, it happens more than we all think. “I think most of it’s done when you have somebody with you, when you’re in the company of friends you’re more likely to say something mean because you have another person there to back you up,” 8th grader Teddy Fisher says.
In high school, it’s not much different, these TechBoston Academy Students are always plugged in. “I get hater comments, just mean things said to me and normally I don’t take it personal because I don’t know them personally, and if it was like a friend who said it to me, I would take it more personally,” Senior Derek Chao says. Each student in this school has a laptop to use in school, and they see how for some kids, constant ridicule can become too much for a teen to bare. “Something little becomes bigger because of everything else. All the little things add up to something bigger, and it ends up exploding and you can’t take it anymore,” Senior Sandy Gomes says. “Kids are getting Taunted, threats are going back and forth, for what? Nothing. Over relationships, or well your sneakers look better than mine, or something. You know it’s like little things, and parents don’t know,” says Senior Lynnae Kirkland.
Experts and kids agree, you get courage in front of that screen to say more than you would in person, and that can have real consequences. If you think it won’t happen to your kid because they have a lot of friends, think again. “They’ve been best friends since, you know, since they were five years old, six years old, and all of the sudden, they get in a fight. One will try to slander or you know, make up rumors about something that’s inappropriate just to get back at them. And there’s no better avenue to get back at them than the internet,” says Chip Yeaton, the school resource officer at Canton High School. Yeaton says bullying is happening younger and younger, and most parents don’t realize what is going on, “we started out doing all high school level. Then down to the middle school because they started accessing the sites. So now it’s migrated down to the elementary school levels with the cell phone and the social sites, and these were not designed for ten or eleven year old kids. There’s a lot of inappropriate adult content that parents aren’t aware of,” Yeaton says.
Elizabeth Englander is a professor of Psychology at Bridgewater State College and the Director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center. She has studied Cyberbullying and says:
-60% of kids have been a victim of Cyberbullying
-More than 50% of kids had no restrictions put on internet use.
If your kids are caught up in this, don’t be surprised if you’re the last to know. “I think with guys, they don’t go to their parents because there’s a thing of pride and if they do then their ego would be hurt, so then they try to deal with it themselves,” says 8th grader Teddy Fisher. “About 90% of the kids in our studies say that they never told anybody when they were victims, and of those who told people, most of them told their parents and most of the time, there was no action taken,” Englander says.
TIPS FOR PARENTS:
-Talk about what is appropriate online
-Monitor internet use appropriate to the child’s age
-Check in periodically with your kids
-Ask what is being talked about online.