Suicide and the Cyberbully

It used to be that bullying meant having your lunch taken or a bloody nose after school. Today, however, bullying has gone high tech. “Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another minor using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. With their identities hidden behind computer screens, cyberbullies can be harder to catch, and sometimes even bolder, than their playground predecessors. Sadly children have even killed themselves after falling victim to cyberbullying. Just recently, criminal charges were levied against several teens in the well-publicized case of 15 year old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts. The youth committed suicide in January after enduring relentless bullying – “cyber” and otherwise – from her classmates.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) report that about one in four youths have been involved in bullying in some way. Bullies are deemed popular and their victims are at increased risk for committing suicide. Both the bully and the victim may suffer from depression – the number one cause of suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. Teenage boys are more likely to commit suicide than are girls. A CDC study also showed 14.5 percent of U.S. high school students reported seriously considering suicide during the year preceding the survey, and 6.9 percent said they had attempted suicide once or more in the same period. Tragically, many children who have been bullied end up taking their own lives.

The incidence of cyberbullying is expected to rise as more children use text-messaging and emailing as forms of communication. Sue Limber and Robin Kowalski, researchers and teachers at Clemson University, in South Carolina, recently finished a study of 3,767 students in grades 6 through 8. Some of their findings are as follows:

  • The most common form of cyberbullying is instant messaging
  • Chat mail and email messages were close behind
  • Girls were twice as likely as boys to be victims

i-Safe has surveyed 1500 4th – 8th graders. Their sobering statistics indicate:

  • 42% of kids have been bullied while online. 1 in 4 have had it happen more than once.
  • 35% of kids have been threatened online. Nearly 1 in 5 have had it happen more than once.
  • 21% of kids have received mean or threatening e-mail or other messages.
  • 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.
  • 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.
  • 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.

It is important for parents to recognize if their child is a bully and/or a victim. Brandy Williams, educator and consultant for Texas public schools lists the signs of both a cyber bully and the victim of cyberbullying.

Signs that Your Child Is a Cyber Bully

  • Uses the computer at all hours of the night.
  • Quickly switches screens and/or closes windows when you come by.
  • Child is unusually upset when they cannot use the computer.
  • Avoids discussions about what they are doing online.
  • Laughs excessively while using the computer.
  • Becomes irritable if you question them or interrupt their computer time.

Signs that Your Child Is Being Cyber Bullied

  • Unexpectedly or suddenly discontinues use of the computer.
  • Appears nervous, jumpy, anxious or scared when an instant message appears.
  • Discontinues interest in going to school, extra curricular and/or general outside activities
  • Is visibly angry, frustrated, depressed or sullen, after using the computer
  • Becomes abnormally withdrawn and distant from family, friends, and favorites activities
  • Lack of appetite with food in general and specific favored foods

The following are Cyberbullying Tips for your children:

  • Tell a trusted adult about the bullying, and keep telling until you find someone who takes action.
  • Don’t open or read messages from cyber bullies.
  • Tell a teacher or administrator at your school if it is school related.
  • Don’t erase the messages ~ they may be needed to take action.
  • Protect yourself: Never agree to meet face to face with anyone you meet online.
  • If bullied through chat or instant messaging, the “bully” can often be blocked.
  • If you are threatened with harm, inform the local police.

It is important that adults become proactive when affecting change against cyberbullying. Often times, no action is taken until the situation is quite out of hand. Children are often reluctant to confide in parents for fear of retaliation, i.e., losing their “cyber privileges.” Cyberbullies deserve to be punished as a result of their actions. Steps can be taken to collect the time stamps on chat sessions, and IP Addresses. Computer hard drives can be searched to locate hidden IP addresses and chat log records. It is possible to collect enough information to present to the school and law enforcement personnel in order to press charges. Professional help should also be considered, due to the increased incidence of depression among both the bully and the victim. A psychologist may offer a safe haven for children to discuss their fears and concerns. Ultimately, this could lead to saving the lives of both the cyber bully and the cyber victim.