Cyberbullying: Facing the Bully in the Computer

What is cyberbullying and what we can do about it

by Ceil Than and John Edward Gill

cyberbully victim girl
cyberbully victim girl © philippe Devanne – Fotolia.com All rights reserved.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Where does the schoolyard bully hang out these days? Online, of course. According to a 2006 survey of 10 to 17 year olds conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project, 61% of those teens are online daily, 55% have a profile on a social networking site such as My Space, and 84% post messages on such sites. Cyberbullying, the use of websites, blogs, e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, and text messaging by one underaged person to single out another underaged person for verbal abuse, is a growing concern among school-age children. These bullies can harass a child in his or her own living room, and parents probably don’t even realize what’s happening.

In 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the results of several studies on cyberbullying. One study, an online survey of 1,588 children ranging from 10 to 15 years old, done by Michelle Ybarra, president of Internet Solutions for Kids, concluded that 34% of the children responded that they had suffered harassment via the Internet in the past year, and 8% responded that they suffered monthly or even more frequently. 15% reported sexual harassment. Another study, a telephone survey of 1,500 children also ranging from 10 to 15 years old, done by a University of New Hampshire group, concluded that 1 in 10 kids experienced cyberbullying. The disparity between the surveys can be linked to the frequency of the attacks as well as the children’s responses to them. A one-time offensive spam can be shrugged off, while repeated offensive messages from strangers or children the recipients think they know can cause psychological trauma.

One Child’s Story

cyberbullying death
cyberbullying death © Dani Simmonds – Fotolia.com All rights reserved.

In 2003, Ryan Patrick Halligan, a 13-year-old, committed suicide in response to years of schoolyard and cyberbullying. Ryan’s parents created a website, www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org, to tell his story. Ryan, a typical gawky teenager, had been picked on by a group of schoolmates since fifth grade. He stood up for himself, even in a schoolyard fist-fight, and eventually befriended these bullies. However, the friendship did not last, and the schoolyard bullying moved into cyberspace where personal IM messages to a girl Ryan thought was his girlfriend were broadcast for public ridicule. According to www.connectwithkids.com, Ryan’s father examined his son’s computer after Ryan’s death and found an IM folder of messages taunting his son to commit suicide, such as: “you’re finally going to kill yourself?” and his son’s reply : “You’ll hear about it in the papers tomorrow.”

On the memorial website, Ryan’s father writes: “I believe my son would have survived these incidents of bullying and humiliation if they took place before computers and the internet. . . . I believe bullying through technology has the effect of accelerating and amplifying the hurt to levels that will probably result in a rise in teen suicide rates.”


View page two: Cyberbullying: What Parents Can Do

Copyright © 2008, Children’s Rights of New York, Inc.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2008, Volume 29, Number 1, issue of HOTLINE.
Reprinted with permission.