With the growing number of social networking sites comes a swift increase in the prevalence of cyberbullying, the deliberate, repeated, hostile behavior by a group or individual intended to harm another, whether online or through the use of a cell phone.
i-Safe Inc., a non-profit foundation whose goal is to educate students on how to avoid dangerous and inappropriate behavior online, reported that 42 percent of all young people have experienced cyberbullying and that one in four had it happen more than once.
“As we are becoming more and more reliant on technology as our major means of communication, the potential for cyberbullying will probably continue to increase,” said Brent Lane, a psychologist with UH’s Counseling and Psychology Services. “Awareness campaigns to reduce cyberbullying could potentially counteract this trend.”
Following the recent rash of teen suicides spurred by both cyberbullying and through physical means, Chris Armstrong, the first openly gay student body president at the University of Michigan, spoke out on CNN’s AC360 about his own experience with cyberbullying at the hands of Andrew Shirvell, a lawyer at the Michigan attorney general’s office. Shirvell created a blog called “Chris Armstrong Watch” where he openly bashed Armstrong for his sexuality, calling him a “radical homosexual activist, racist, elitist and liar.”
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres broadcast a heartfelt appeal to victims of bullying earlier this month.
“This needs to be a wake up call to everyone that teen-aged bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death toll is climbing,” she said.
At a city council meeting in Fort Worth, councilman Joel Burns concurred, recounting his own experiences with bullying and admitting that he flirted with the idea of suicide. Burns pleaded with victims to see that life does get better, however, hoping that his words would offer comfort to victims everywhere by letting them know that they are not alone.
“This story is for the young people who might be holding the gun tonight, or the rope or the pill bottle,” Burns said. “You need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it, on that unfortunate day. There is so, so much more.”
For UH students who have fallen victim to bullying in any form, CAPS offers help.
“Research has consistently found a link between being the victim of bullying and increased risk for depression, anxiety, problems in relationships and suicidal ideation,” Lane said. “These are common presenting problems that CAPS therapists are trained to treat.”
DeGeneres ended her segment poignantly.
“Things will get easier, people’s minds will change, and you should be alive to see it.”