Cyberbullying a growing issue for younger generation
Matthew Coutts, ctvtoronto.ca
Published Sunday, November 13, 2011 3:58PM EST
It used to be that students who were teased and mocked in the hallways and yards of schools across Canada could avoid the abuse by avoiding the bully.
But such escape is virtually impossible for a generation raised in an era of technology with Internet and social media. It's a generation who can face a daily barrage of cyberbullying through cruel Facebook posts, nasty text messages and vile videos posted online.
With Monday marking the start of Bullying Awareness Week, a sharper look is being taken at what can be done to stop online assaults.
Experts say any act of trying to make someone else feel bad is considered bullying. Cyberbullying is when that act is executed using technology, be it cell phones and text messages or Facebook, YouTube videos and other Internet mediums.
The Associated Press released a survey earlier this year that found 56 per cent of youth in their teens and early 20s have been the target of some type of online taunting or harassment.
That number has jumped since 2009, when a similar survey found that 45 per cent of youth had been cyberbullied.
Shaheen Shariff, a professor at McGill University who specializes in cyberbullying, says the effects of being teased online are just as severe as being bullied in person, and can include lowered self esteem, hopelessness and depression.
"They are not growing up like us adults. They are growing up immersed in it. Their whole perspective on life is different," Shariff said.
"The problem with cyberbullying is that it is available to an infinite audience. The victim not only gets victimized once but it is repeated."
Duane, a Kids Help Phone counsellor who did not share his last name due to the nature of his work, says cyberbullying is a growing phenomenon that has compounded the issue of school bullying.
"With the advancement in technology kids are going to find new ways of reaching out, whether for positive or negative reasons," he said.
"From the victim of bullying standpoint, we hear a lot from people who need to be reminded that bullying is not your fault, the fact that you are the victim of bullying is not something you asked for. It is not something that you deserve. We start to empower kids to recognize that they deserve to be treated with far more respect than that."
Duane added that cyberbullying rarely happens as a standalone incident. Those who are bullied in person often see the same treatment online.
One young girl who recently called Kids Help Phone said a group of girls started picking on her the moment she started attending a new middle school. It did not take long before the teasing was happening through text messages and on Facebook, and its severity had elevated.
Duane said that bullies often feel empowered by the anonymous nature of cyberbullying. He said they are more likely to say or do things they would not have the courage to say or do in person.
"A lot of people forget that when you send a text it is there, it can be seen by other people. A hateful email can be printed off. There is a sense that you are not going to get caught and people are not going to see you doing it," he said.
In September, Statistics Canada released a study that found one in 10 adults had learned that their child was being cyberbullied.
Forty per cent of those cases involved children between 12 and 13 years of age. In 26 per cent of cases, the child was between the ages of 15 and 19.
Over the course of Bullying Awareness Week, Kids Help Phone is leading an initiative to show a united front against cyberbullies.
They are hoping that adults and youth, including bullying victims and those who have witnessed bullying, will post anti-bulling messages to their social networking sites.
Kids Help Phone is urging people to update Facebook and Twitter with the message, "I will not tolerate hurtful comments online. Cyberbullying will be reported to site administrators. Join me in taking a stand."
"The essence of getting bullying to stop is making people aware that there is support out there," Duane said. "Not only do victims of bullying need support, but the bullies need support as well on many levels. It is about making bullies and victims aware that there is support out there."
Bullying Awareness Week runs from Nov. 14 to Nov. 20 and begins with a kick-off event at Gordon A. Brown Public School at 2800 St. Clair Ave. E. on Monday, Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m.