The issue of cyber-bullying has garnered increased attention since Phoebe Price, a 15 year old who moved from Ireland to Massachusetts, hanged herself in January after classmates tormented her verbally, on Facebook and through text messages. Prosecutors have charged six fellow students in her case and raised questions about the actions of school officials who knew about incidents of abuse.
The issue of cyber-bullying has become even more concerning with research that has recently emerged. An article from the Washington Post states that a study released by The National Institutes of Health last week shows that as bullying has moved from the school yard to the digital realm, its victims are feeling more hopeless and depressed than ever. surveyed 7,000 American schoolchildren. There results indicated that traditional bullying and cyber-bullying are not often mutually exclusive events. For example, Phoebe Prince’s attackers pummeled her with a soda can 0n the day she hanged herself. This act was in addition to other instances of cyber-bullying of Prince.
Cyber-bullying seems impossible to escape… unless adolescents give up social networking or their cell phones, a sacrifice few young teens want to make. Ronald J. Iannotti, the head of the study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health describes the differences between face to face bullying and cyber-bullying. Iannotti says that since cyber-bullies may not always identify themselves, victims are more likely to feel “isolated, dehumanized, or helpless at the time of the attack.” The study also found that with traditional bullying methods, depression levels were highest among both the victim and what researchers call “bully-victims” (adolescents who are both bullies and victims). With cyber-bullying however, victims faced significantly greater levels of depression than their attackers or than students who were both bullies and victims.
While the study found boys were more likely to cyber-bully and girls were more likely to be cyber-bullying victims, bullying victims suffered higher depressive tendencies, regardless of gender. Consequences of bullying include lower levels of academic achievement, well-being, and social development. Psychological and emotional wounds from bullying can also negatively affect psychological development into adulthood.
While cyber-bullying can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, there are things that we can do to help. Bullying prevention must become a community effort. Involvement from adults can drastically reduce bullying in all forms. Iannotti states that “it’s really got to be a community effort- working with teachers, administrators, parents who are working with kids to improve their social skills so these kinds of things don’t happen.”
Starting this fall, FVPC heads into Chapel Hill/ Carrboro City Schools to facilitate a new curriculum, Start Strong, which focuses on healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to avoid situations (like bullying) that can lead to violence. Prevention programs like Start Strong teach kids how to help advocate for themselves and others; find resources, and help bullies understand that they don’t have to define themselves at the costing of others.