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David Baxter

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Cyber-bullying replaces schoolyard bullying among US kids
by Virginie Montet
Sun Jan 28, 2007

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Cyberspace has replaced the schoolyard as the preferred space for bullying among many US kids, who are going online to threaten, insult and harass each other outside the watchful eye of teachers or parents.

According to statistics, more than a third of American teenagers who use instant messaging and social networking sites such as MySpace, FaceBook, Xanga and Friendster fall victim to electronic insults, often by schoolmates.

"Many kids are involved or engaged in this behavior because it is sort of out of distance," Justin Patchin, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, told AFP.

"They don't see the harm that they are causing, they don't really think that they are doing anything wrong, they think they're just having fun," he added.

The bullying includes nasty remarks posted on personal pages or repeated insults during instant messaging conversations.

Sometimes, however, the aggression goes even further. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, 12.6 percent of respondents reported that they had been threatened physically and almost five percent said they feared for their safety.

The phenomenon has even provoked suicides. In 2005, a 15-year-old boy named Jeff killed himself in the southern state of Florida after being harassed for two years on the Internet by other teenagers.

Another 13-year-old boy from the northeast state of Vermont, Ryan Halligan, committed suicide in 2003. Halligan, who suffered from a slight handicap, had become the butt of jokes on the Internet by several girls.

"Cyber-bullying wasn't the only factor but those who were close to the situation maintained that it was a primary contribution to the kid's depression and ultimate suicide," Patchin said.

He said girls were just as prone to engage in this sort of bullying as boys.

Girls are also more likely to be subjected to online bullying -- 38.3 percent are bullied against 34.4 percent for boys -- but 27.3 percent of them don't hesitate to answer back, according to the University of Wisconsin study.

"When you think about traditional schoolyard bullying, it seems to be a more boy-dominated affair," Patchin said. "But with cyber-bullying, girls and boys are equally likely to be involved in the behavior."

He said girl bullying is "more subtle, more subversive, more indirect or more relational aggression," and the Internet was the perfect place for that kind of aggression.

The most commonly used insults among girls are "fat, ugly, slut and bitch" along with the spreading of lies and rumors.

Faced with this growing trend taking place outside the school walls, American educators say they are often at a loss on how to respond.

"It's a very difficult challenge," said Ann Flynn, director of education at the National School Boards Association. "Basically, it is as if everyday a child walks from school, someone stands on a corner and yells something negative.

"How can the school be held accountable for what happens on the sidewalk?"

Many school districts are addressing the problem by creating "respect policies" or honor codes under which cyber-bullying would fall, Flynn said.

"I would really hesitate to see a law passed," she added. "You do get very close to infringing on freedom of speech when you start to legislate some of this."

She said a national study was underway on the use of social networking sites by teenagers and parents' perception of what their children are doing online.

"Quite frankly the social networking phenomenon has grown so quickly that it's very hard to have a good baseline of what's happening," Flynn said.
 

Halo

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In my opinion the only way that a school should be accountable for what a child does online is if the activity is being done on a school computer.

I do not believe that it is up to the school to be accountable for what a child may or may not be doing online while on a home computer involving cyber bullying. I think that is where the parents ought to be involved and know what their child is doing online and who they are talking to and what their child is saying and to whom. Just because a child says that they are "chatting" with friends doesn't necessarily mean that it is all good and innocent. I believe that parents should be aware of what their child is doing online at all times.

JMO.
 

Heather

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I have read an article about mobile phones too, how bullies are using these to bully people too and it is dangerous because the person being bullied can read over it again and again especially if they believe the message i.e. your fat!

It is a worry.

Heather...
 

Halo

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On that same line Heather, I guess the same can be said for emails....reading them over and over and believing what is written whether it was intended as a joke or not.
 

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