Cyberbullying: Teen Social Life in the 21st Century

If you are the parent of a teen or have a teen in your life, then you are surely familiar with Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, and countless other social networking sites where teens congregate. These sites have become a “virtual playground” where anonymous teens engage in vicious bullying without even leaving the house. The bullying isn’t limited to the internet though. Teens are being harassed by peers via cell phone text messages also. The internet offers anonymity and allows bullies to engage in behavior that would not be socially acceptable in a public forum. Sadly, the tragic story of Megan Meier, who committed suicide after enduring cyber-bullying, is an example of seriousness of this issue. Megan’s death brought to light the need for laws to hold cyber bullies responsible for their actions. In fact, this phenomenon has challenged many states (Texas, New Jersey, Oregon, California, Rhode Island, and New York) to establish laws to deal with cyber-bullying issues. There is even a non-profit foundation dedicated to educating young people about internet safety: i-SAFE Inc. Parents need to talk with their teens about cyber-bullying and monitor what their teen is doing online.
An equally disturbing trend is the physical attacks of peers that teens are videotaping for broadcast on the internet. Not only does a victim suffer physical pain, he/she now must undergo endless humiliation as the beating is played over and over again on popular sites such as YouTube for thousands to see. There is a boomerang effect wherein the initial incident becomes fodder for hallway gossip at school, furthering the humiliation for the victim. In an interview with People magazine for a story about a video beating of a Florida teen, Dr. James Garbarino (author of several books on teen violence) stated, “Violence tends to become depersonalized when it’s on the Internet.”[1]
The problems arising from cyber-bullying include teen suicide, school violence, and depression. Parents of teens need to be educated about cyber-bullying and prepared to address these problems if they arise. Most importantly, parents must be aware of their teen’s online activities and set limits in this regard.

[Article originally written May 2008]

1“Mean Girls” by Jill Smolowe, Steve Helling, Siobahn Morrissey & Kristen Mascia in People Magazine, April 28, 2008

Author's Bio: 

Lori Payne is a Licensed Professional Counselor & Supervisor who specializes in working with teens. She has worked in residential, outpatient, & school settings over the past 13+ years & currently has a private practice. Additional specialties include self-injury & substance abuse. Lori seeks to assist teens in finding their voice & identity while creating a healthy, vibrant path. She also enjoys working with adults & families dealing with various life issues. Lori's main purpose is to make a difference.