Cyber Bullying: A Hot Topic for Parents

What is cyber bullying? It is a term that refers to children and teens using social networking sites, cell phones and the Internet in general as a virtual "playground" in which to bully.

As adults we may be aware of cyber stalkers or sexual predators who may try to contact our children online. But cyber bullying is a different beast, perpetrated by peers. And as such, it can be more difficult to identify and discuss. But, it can be equally dangerous. Studies show a spike in depression and suicides in teens that experts link to the phenomenon of cyber bullying. It has become a hot topic in the news due to the high profile deaths of Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi.  When mean words are posted in cyberspace, they are public and permanent, and therefore carry a particularly harsh stigma. 

Why has cyber bullying become a trend? According to the National Crime Prevention Council, one-third of children and teens say they have been a victim of cyber bullying within the past year. Gay and Lesbian youth report much higher incidences of cyber bullying. We must realize that this can only mean that many of our children are participating in this bullying.

Children and teens often feel a sense of anonymity and detachment over the Internet that can lead to saying things they wouldn’t say to each others' faces. Also, the Internet allows for our young people to pretend to be someone they are not by using different profiles or user names, further increasing fantasy feelings that they themselves are not bullying.

As a librarian, I have seen an increase in tears over cyber bullying  in our children’s rooms, where our neighborhood’s youth come to use computers. So I encourage you to talk to your kids about this issue. Some tips for young people:

1. Do not pretend to be someone you aren’t on the Internet.

2. Read what you write before you hit "send." Is this how you would want to represent yourself in real life?

3. Cyber bullying is real bullying, and you should report incidences to adults or the proper authorities.

4. Many states, such as California and Massachusetts, have enacted laws that make cyber bullying punishable with fines or jail time.

We also invite you to two upcoming events to help our community deal with this issue:

On Monday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at the Shaw Library, Teresa McCain will present a workshop on prevention of cyber bullying. She has shared her tips with the DC Public Schools, and we are delighted to have her as a speaker.

The 2011 Youth Law Fair, presented by the DC Superior Court, will focus on cyber bullying as its topic. Students in grades 8-12 can participate in workshops and mock trials. This is a great opportunity for future lawyers or those interested in human rights! The date is Saturday, March 19. Register for this event.

--Anina Ertel