Tamara Lush from the Washington Post reported recently that Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl from Florida, committed suicide on September 9th after nearly a year of being bullied by as many as 15 girls. Online bullies attacked Sedwick with messages that said anything from “You should die” to “Why don’t you go kill yourself.”
A ‘boyfriend issue’ started the bullying, according to Lush, but it eventually escalated. The school suspended Rebecca for fighting someone she used to consider a friend, and she was hospitalized in December for self-harming behavior, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Although Rebecca’s parents removed her from the school, homeschooled her, and then transferred her to a different school, the bullying continued online.
This case is a demonstration of the harmful effects of cyberbullying. According to Lizette Alvarez, of the New York Times, Rebecca became one of the “youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide,” at least in part due to cyberbullying.
Statistics from stopbullying.gov show that the number of kids dealing with cyberbullies is growing. Research found that only 6% of students experienced cyberbullying in 2009, but a survey by Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that cyberbullying affected 16% of high school students in 2011.
Bullying has Changed
Bullying is no longer just hateful words said during school, a big kid taking your lunch money, or mean notes passed in hallways. Bullying is now online – which means bullies can hurt your kids anytime they look at their phone or turn on a computer.
According to stopbullying.gov, cyberbullying can include things like mean texts or emails, but also can take the form of fake profiles with embarrassing or untrue information, rumors spread on social media, and even naked pictures, or videos spread over the Internet.
One difficult aspect of online bullying is that is completely anonymous and detached- that means the bullied child or teen has no way to confront the bully, which leads to a feeling of powerlessness, which can escalate into suicidality.
Cyberbullying and Suicide: The Research
Even though many adults see bullying as part of “being a kid,” bullyingstatistics.org says it is a “serious problem that leads to many negative effects for victims, including suicide.”
According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people. In addition, for every suicide, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. In a study by Yale, victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than kids who were not subjected to peer aggression.
Hinduja and Patchin found that kids who were associated with bullying or cyberbullying had more suicidal thoughts and were more likely to attempt self-harm than those who did not experience peer aggression. This includes both bullies and victims. However, victims scored higher on suicidal ideation than those who offended.
They also found that traditional bullying victims were 1.7 times more likely and cyberbullying victims were 1.9 times more likely to have attempted suicide that those who where not bullied. This led the researchers to conclude that “adolescent peer aggression must be taken seriously both at school and at home,” and that “suicide prevention and intervention” is key in bullying response systems in school.
According to Hinduja and Patchin, kids who experience bullying have a decreased sense of self-worth. They feel hopeless, depressed, and lonely; these feelings are all precursors to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Warning Signs of Suicide
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are basic warning signs to look for, indicating potentially-suicidal thoughts. If your child withdraws from her favorite activities, has trouble eating or sleeping, stops spending time with friends, or gives away favorite belongings, or if he talks about wanting to die, feeling hopeless, or being unable to handle his circumstances, it may be time to seek help. Talk to your child or teen, and seek care from a counselor, therapist, doctor, or even the emergency room in an extreme situation. If you have concerns about your child, make sure all weapons and medications are secured.
Prevent Cyberbullying From Taking Over
You may not be able to prevent cyberbullying, but together, your family can keep it from taking over your lives. Talk about bullying with your kids – both bullying and being bullied. According to Dehue et al, many bullied kids retaliate with bullying behavior, and parents “underestimate their own children’s bullying behavior and have insufficient notion of their children as victims of bullying.”
Establish rules for Internet use, chatting, and texting. As parents, you should know what sites their kids are using, and be able to review they’re doing online, especially if you have concerns about anything that may be going on. You can use parental control software on computers, and change numbers if you find that someone is bullying your child via text.
Encourage your kids to tell you if they experience bullying, and show them how to be safe online. Teach your kids to maintain secure passwords and to avoid sharing private information online.
How to Deal With Cyberbullying When It Happens
If online bullies are targeting your kids, you don’t have to just accept the abuse. Dr. Suzanne Phillips, a licensed Psychologist and Psychoanalyst, gives some guidelines for responding to cyberbullying via PBS. These suggestions are in no particular order, so don’t feel that you have to attempt all methods of calming the situation before reaching out for help.
- Don’t respond to bullies in any way.
- Save all evidence. This means take screenshots of abusive comments, and save emails and texts.
- Block the bully if possible, and report the profile to the moderator or admin of the online site.
- Seek assistance from the school’s guidance counselor if the bullying involves kids at the same school.
- Discuss the problem with the parents of the other kids involved if you feel comfortable doing so.
- Contact an attorney.
- If the bullying continues, or includes threats, intimidation, obscene material, or sexual exploitation, go to the police.
- Seek professional help if your child is overly stressed because of the bullying.
Online Bullying and Your Family
Cyberbullying is now a problem that all parents have to be aware of. The Internet is a dangerous place, and kids are vulnerable to online bullies around the clock, so talk with your children and teens to make sure it doesn’t impact your family. Parents, friends, and kids can work together to stop and report cyber aggression; making the Internet a safer place for everyone.
Stopbullying.gov. Cyberbullying. (2013). Accessed September 30, 2013.
Dehue, F., Bolman, C., Völlink, T. Cyberbullying: Youngsters’ Experiences and Parental Perception. (2008). CyberPsychology and Behavior. Accessed September 30, 2013.
National Institutes of Health. The Sorrow of Suicide. (2012). Accessed September 30, 2013.
Lush, Tamara. Cyberbullying charges weighed after suicide of Florida girl, 12. (2013). Washington Post. Accessed September 30, 2013.
Pavuk, Amy. Rebecca Sedwick’s suicide highlights dangers of cyberbullying. (2013). Orlando Sentinel. Accessed September 30, 2013.
Alvarez, Lizette. Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies. (2013). New York Times. Accessed September 30, 2013.
Hinduja,Sameer. Responding to Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Teens. (2012). Cyberbullying Research Center. Accessed September 30, 2013.
Bullyingstatistics.org. Bullying and Suicide. (2009). Accessed September 30, 2013.
Hinduja, Sameer, and Patchin, Justin. Cyberbullying and Suicide. (2010). Cyberbullying.us. Accessed September 30, 2013.
Phillips, Suzanne. Coping with Cyberbullying: The Use of Technology to Terrify. (2009). PBS.org. Accessed September 30, 2013.© Copyright 2013 Thu Anh Le, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting