How Can I Help Teens Who Are Victims of Cyberbullying?

Mary E. Muscari, PhD, CPNP, APRN-BC

Disclosures

October 25, 2010

In This Article
Editor’s Note: This article's content has been updated by the author and republished in light of recent events and new information.


Question

I cared for an adolescent recently who told me about some disturbing experiences she had online with other teens. It sounds like cyberbullying. How can I help her?  

Response from Mary E. Muscari, PhD, CPNP, APRN-BC
Associate Professor, Decker School of Nursing, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York; Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Clinical Specialist, and Forensic Clinical Specialist, Sex Offender Assessment Board/Pennsylvania Board of Probation & Parole, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

What Is Cyberbullying?

Asher Brown, 13, was a straight A student. Seth Walsh, 13, liked Pokemon cards, dance music, and reading the Bible. William Lucas, 15, was a freshman at Greenburg High School. Tyler Clementi, 18, was a talented violinist. All 4 committed suicide this fall within a period of 19 days. All 4 had experienced some form of torment from their peers at school.[1,2] The 2010 Report of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group found that bullying and harassment are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline.[3]

The vast majority of youth owns a cellular phone and a personal computer, giving them the ability to communicate via the Internet and other electronic media. This networking can have numerous positive effects, but it also has a dark side that can include cyberbullying, which can pose a threat for individual and community health.[4] Today's digital natives are used to seeing and being seen, on a scale that is unfathomable by their parents, healthcare providers, and teachers. Although schools engage in rigorous efforts to curb Internet abuse through policies and filtering software, expanded forms of technology and differing formats of information presentation continue to surface, warranting new discussions about digital safety, abuse, and cyberbullying.[5]

Although there is no universal definition of cyberbullying, the National Crime Prevention Council, defines cyberbullying as the use of the Internet, cell phones, or other communication devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person. Cyberbullying includes acts of traditional aggression, such as insulting, spreading rumors, or threatening, which are communicated electronically instead of face to face. But it can also include unique behaviors not found in traditional bullying. One example is "bombing," whereby the aggressor uses an automated program to collapse the victim's e-mail with thousands of simultaneous messages. This causes failure and blocking of the victim's e-mail account.[6]

The prevalence of cyberbullying is difficult to determine; however, an estimated 9% to 34% of adolescents are victims of bullying, and 4% to 21% of adolescents are perpetrators.[7] While practitioners may think this indirect form of bullying is predominantly a female domain, it is not. One study of 177 seventh graders found that approximately 60% of cybervictims are females, while over 52% of cyberbullies are males.[8]

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