The number of youths harassed by Internet bullies has increased 50% since 2000, say researchers from Internet Solutions for Kids, Inc., and the University of New Hampshire.
Researchers surveyed 1,497 10- to 17-year-old Internet users and their parents about their online experiences. The kids reported whether they'd ever felt worried or threatened because someone bothered them online or whether anyone posted or sent messages about them for other people to see within the last year. They also noted how much time they spent online and whether they had other social and emotional problems, such as depression, aggression, and attention problems. In addition, they noted whether they'd experienced physical or sexual abuse offline, such as being hit, being picked on by peers, or being attacked by a person or group within the last year.
Among participants, 9% said they'd been targets of Internet harassment within the last year, a 50% increase since the last survey on Internet harassment among youths. Half of those who reported harassment had experienced it more than once, and one third said they'd been harassed three or more times within the last year. And in 25% of Internet harassment cases, the harasser took the harassment offline by telephoning, coming to the home, or sending gifts.
Some youths had a higher risk of being targeted by cyberbullies. Those who harassed others online, who reported significant social problems offline, and who reported being the victim of physical or sexual abuse had an increased risk of being targeted. In addition, those who instant messaged, blogged, or used chat rooms also had a higher risk of being targeted by cyberbullies.
Some 38% of participants who reported Internet harassment said they felt very or extremely upset or afraid because of their experience.
What This Means to You. According to the results of this survey, Internet bullying poses a significant problem for many youths and in some cases may cause serious distress and fear. Internet-safety experts urge parents not to overreact to these situations by banning Internet access entirely because it may backfire and discourage kids from disclosing harassment to adults. Instead, StaySafe.org suggests these steps for dealing with cyberbullies:
- Remind kids to always tell you or another adult if they're being bullied online.
- Tell kids to stop opening, reading, or responding to messages from the bully.
- Keep the messages, though, in case you need to take action with the Internet service provider or the police.
- Use blocking software to prevent bullies from contacting your kids through instant messaging programs.
If anyone in your family receives harmful threats from a cyberbully, contact the police.
Source: Michele L. Ybarra, MPH, PhD; Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD; Janis Wolak, JD; David Finkelhor, PhD; Pediatrics, October 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2006