I have served as a panelist on several school industry advisory councils. One topic frequently raised is social responsibility and the cyber-bullying epidemic, which continues to grow. Cyber-bullying is when a child or teenager is harassed, humiliated, embarrassed, threatened or tormented using digital technology. This is not limited to the Internet; cyber-bullying also encompasses bullying done through such things as text messages using cell phones.

What astounds me most is the lack of awareness parents have regarding this issue, and it is more prevalent in older generation parents that do not use technology nor understand the social networks. Let’s face it, verbal bullying isn’t new. It’s been an ongoing problem where children pick on other children, tease them and make them feel horrible.

In your adolescent days, you probably watched it happen, or even were the victim of it. So, it’s no surprise that bullying still goes on. Let’s fast-forward 20 years, and thanks to technology, it has become much worse. When someone is bullied through the social networks, humiliation is broadcast for the masses to see, and since the Internet never sleeps, the bullying posts are instantaneous and can become viral more quickly.

Before I get into statistics, let’s take a look at these young people who have taken their own life due to being cyber-bullied:

Tyler Clementi – Hidden Web Cam Broadcasts Sexual Relations

Tyler Clementi Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after footage of him engaging in sexual contact in his dorm room was shown on the Internet by his roommate, 18-year-old Dharun Ravi. Ravi had turned on the web cam in the dorm room without Clementi knowing after Clementi had asked to have the room to himself for a certain period of time. Devastated by this horrific act, Clementi took his own life. According to the Associated Press, Clementi left a status update on his Facebook page on September 22, 2010, saying “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry”. Dharun Ravi and his accomplice are now facing criminal charges. Visit CBS News video.

Phoebe Prince – Cyber Mobbed

Phoebe Prince In January 2010, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, a recent Irish immigrant, hanged herself after nearly three months of routine torment by students at South Hadley High School via text message and through Facebook. Her death shook the town of South Hadley and prompted the Massachusetts legislature to pass a law introducing an anti-bullying curriculum in the state’s public schools. The investigation of the incident has lead to six Massachusetts teenagers who have been indicted in the “unrelenting” bullying. Visit CBS News video.

Megan Meier – MySpace Fake “Friend”

Megan Meier Megan Meier was a 13 year old from Missouri who struck up an online friendship on MySpace with a person she believed was a new boy in her hometown. In actuality, the “friend” was a group of individuals, including adults, who were intent on humiliating the poor girl because of a friendship with another young girl that had gone awry. Megan later committed suicide once the “friendship” had terminated. The horrifying case stunned the community and caused state government officials to pass some of the harshest cyber-bullying laws in the country. Visit ABC News video.

Alexis Pilkington – Internet “Trollers”

Alexis Pilkington Alexis Pilkington, 17, of West Islip, Long Island, N.Y., killed herself after what may have been cyber-bullying. Even after her death, the harassing Internet messages, also known as trolls, continued and were posted on a page meant to stand as a tribute for Alexis. Visit TodayShow.com video about Internet “trolls”.

It’s hard to think that something could be so horrible that it would provoke a person to take their own life, but it is an epidemic that exists and must be addressed. It is important to note that cyber-bulling can only happen between minors. When an adult is harassing children or teenagers, it is known as cyber harassment or cyber stalking. This would include co-workers, ex-lovers, family members, friends, neighbors and even politicians. Sarah Palin was a great example of someone being cyber-harassed during the 2010 presidential election.

Cyber-bullying can take many forms:

  • Spreading rumors online or via text message
  • Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites, web pages, via email and text message
  • Seizing or side jacking a person’s account information to break into their account and send damaging messages
  • Impersonating someone else online to deliberately hurt another person
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and posting them within the social networking sites
  • Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person

The following statistics are adapted from the youth research compiled at CyberBullying.us:

  • 33% of youth have been victimized by cyber-bullying
  • The primary cyber-bullying location where victimizing occurs is in chat rooms (56%)
  • 49% are victimized via instant message and 28% via e-mail
  • 34% of youth who are bullied feel frustrated, 30% angry and 22% feel sad (Oddly, because many studies show that females often deal with harder situations by becoming sad, this particular study suggests that females feel much angrier than males about being cyber-bullied)
  • 41% of victims do not tell anyone in their off-screen lives about their abuse, but 38% did tell an online friend (The situation only improved for 19% of victims when they did tell someone about the bullying)
  • 17% admitted to bullying another individual online (Of the offenders interviewed, most considered it fun or instructive; such as a way to strengthen their victims)
  • More than half of study participants feel that cyber-bullying is as bad, or worse, as bullying in real life

There are many ways to help identify and prevent cyber-bullying. Here are just a few great resources for parents: Top 10 Ways Parents Can Protect Kids From Cyberbullying (Fox News), What Parents and Adults Can Do (National Crime Prevention Council) and Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention and Response (Cyberbullying Research Center).

The statistics and the untimely deaths of these young individuals shed light on the disturbing trend of bullying and teen suicide. It is crucial that parents, educators and lawmakers see this epidemic as a serious issue and create stricter anti-bullying guidelines and laws. Our way of communication has changed, and so must our laws, guidelines and policies.