It is the kind of torment that no parent would want their child to endure. Cyberbullying can and does lead to suicide. Special laws have now been passed to try and deal with this relatively new phenomenon, which affects an estimated 50 percent of all teenagers at one time or another.
That’s because the Internet is now part of our daily routine. But increasingly, online communications cause severe trauma. Take the case of Jessi Slaughter, a young girl whose You Tube video that has gone viral. It shows her crying hysterically, telling her peers to “stop hating.”
Young people with unfettered access to the Internet are often going on the attack. The consequences can be devastating, especially for 11-year-old Slaughter.
Her video continues with as her dad intervenes, saying “I know who is doing it and you’ve been reported to the cyber police… you will be arrested.”
The girl’s tears are a reflection of a social pressure that is unimaginable for those who grew up before the inter net. Experts say as many as one in five teenagers have been bullied online.
Bullies have changed from brawny to brainy, according to Dr. Kimberly Mason, a UNO cyberbully expert.
“It’s not the strongest guy anymore,” she said. “It’s the smartest one who knows how to use the technology most.”
Facebook has become the school yard where most teenagers, as well as adults, gather to socialize. Teenagers chat virtually non-stop about who is in, and who is out. But many times, they attack one another.
The problem is made worse because many young people no longer communicate face to face, where they learn to read other people’s reactions to what they say.
“It can be a train wreck for them,” Mason explained. “They don’t develop those skills.”
And teenage girls are twice as likely to cyberbully as boys. Fallout from typed words emailed to hundreds of friends can be devastating.
“That’s why we’re seeing an increase that doubles if they have a social networking site because they have instant access and everyone’s on that site,” Mason said.
In Massachusetts, six students were charged with bullying a 15-year-old girl via Facebook, prior to her suicide.
In Ohio, an 18 year-old girl killed herself after her ex-boyfriend sent out nude photos of her. Louisiana teens are being tormented too.
“My daughter is 12 years-old. She’s spent the last two years with stomach pains because she was worried about what she would face in school,” said Pamela Para during a 2010 Louisiana legislative education committee meeting.
Counselors say threats should be taken seriously in order to prevent teen suicides.
“It’s still the third leading cause of deaths among teenagers in this country,” Mason said.
Cyberbullying has become so bad that Louisiana has passed laws requiring schools to become actively involved. But the response rate has been minimal.
Mason says the laws have not been fully implemented.
Louisiana’s cyberbullying law was passed in 2010, after urging from a cyberbully victim from St. John parish.
The law requires every school in Louisiana to establish a cyberbullying policy, setting up a mechanism for investigating cyberbullyiing incidents. But some say only one in 20 schools are following the law.
“That’s always a concern, but if it’s not happening by next year, everyone should be in compliance,” said state Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie.
In spite of the new law, civil court may be a victim’s parent’s best option.
“If they’re not in compliance then parents are going to be in a position and have an advantage legally,” LaBruzzo said.
There are several programs that help parents monitor their kids’ inter net activities, including cyberbully alert.
“If you’re at work, you can get a message about what your child is doing,” Mason said.
If your girl or boy has been victimized, Crimestoppers has set up Operation Safe Schools.
“When we get a bullying complaint we send it to the school and possibly law enforcement,” said New Orleans Crimestoppers director Darlene Cusanza.
Experts say the investigation should be conducted through one-on-one interviews. Conflict resolution, where you place the bully with the victim, is not recommended.
“It makes matters worse,” Mason warned.
The laws will likely get tougher. One is now being considered to set up a statewide cyberbully reporting network.
The stakes are high, and parents everywhere are now on notice about the psychological dangers lurking in their child’s computer networks.