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Digital Age Brings New Public Health Concern… Cyberbullying February 9, 2009

Posted by Anna Dillingham in Mental Health, Prevention.

Technology is amazing.  I love that I can access email, check the internet, listen to my favorite music, take and send pictures, and even answer phone calls, all with one single device that I can hold in the palm of my hand.  This was unimaginable when I was growing up.   Now teenagers live by this technology, and it must be hard for them to imagine being without it.  Today’s youth are extremely technologically savvy.  According to data presented by Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 93% of teens are online; 87% email and 68% instant message; 75% have a cell phone and 20% have their own PDA or Blackberry; approximately 30% have a blog and 54% read blogs; and 70% use social networking sites. 

But along with all the advantages that come from living in the digital age, comes new safety concerns and questions about the health risks for young users.  The media has picked up several stories of more extreme cases of cyber-bullying.  Like the mother who pretended to be a teenage boy to torment her daughter’s former friend.  The young teen ended up committing suicide.  Although cases this dramatic are rare, Pew reports that 32% of online teenagers have been the victim of some type of cyberbullying. 

Cyperbullying, also called electronic aggression, has been defined by the CDC in its issue brief, Electronic Media and Youth Violence, as:

“any type of harassment or bullying (teasing, telling lies, making fun of someone, making rude or mean comments, spreading rumors, or making threatening or aggressive comments) that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), or text messaging.” 

A variety of efforts have been initiated to involve youth, parents, and educators in stemming rising rates of cyberbullying.  Washington Post reporter Ashley Surdin writes in her article, In Several States, A Push to Stem Cyper-Bullying, that in response to online safety concerns 13 states have passed legislation aimed at reducing the rates of cyberbullying, most of them focusing on school policies.  For example, in January, California became one of the latest states to take steps to protect against cyberbullying by passing legislation that would enable schools to suspend or even expel cyberbullies.  These laws help schools navigate the uncharted waters of dealing with perpetrators of electronic aggression. 

Advances in digital media happen fast and furiously, leaving public health workers, educators, legislators, and parents running to catch up to make sure the biggest users of this technology are protected.  Many believe, as with most public health challenges, prevention is the key. 

And just for fun, check out several prevention-minded PSA’s about cyberbullying at the National Crime Prevention Center’s website.



1. Kayla Yost - February 9, 2009

What I find so interesting about cyberbullying is how it differs from traditional bullying practices. Individuals that cyberbully may have similar characteristics of children who bully in person: dominate personalities, impulsive, difficulty following rules, positive attitudes toward violence, and show little empathy for targets. However, cyberbulliyng also attracts individuals that are less likely to bully in person. The anonymity afforded by the internet can lead individuals to react in ways they wouldn’t in person becasue it is easier to distance themselves from any personal responsibility. It also differs from traditional bullying in that targets are always accessible online and thus cannot distance themselves from their attackers. Thanks for bringing up this issue!

2. Rob Watson - February 12, 2009

The main types of bullying are: Physical – such as someone taking your money, pushing, pinching or hitting you. Visit the website http://www.stoptextbully.com The BBC Onelife is full of helpful advice on bullying. Send your emails to help@bullying.co.uk Kidscape is a national charity committed to keeping children safe from bullying and abuse.

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