by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
When I was a teen, the internet had not yet taken over the world. Social networking was done in person, not on a website, and bullying happened face-to-face on the playground. It's no secret: Times have changed, and so has bullying. New research has found that approximately one out of every two LGBT youths are regular victims of this new form of bullying, known as cyberbullying.
According to the research, children and teens are being bullied through the internet in chat rooms, on social networking websites, via e-mail, and even through mobile phones. The study's authors describe cyberbullying as attacks such as electronic distribution of humiliating photos, dissemination of false or private information, or targeting victims in cruel online polls.
It is thought that such cyberbullying causes psychological and emotional distress to victims and can produce thoughts of suicide in those who are repeatedly victimized.
"There's a saying that we've now changed to read: 'Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can kill,'" said Warren Blumenfeld, an Iowa State University assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, and the study's lead author.
Blumenfeld said that cyberbullying is particularly harmful to teens because "at this age, this is a time when peer influences are paramount in a young person's life." He says, "If one is ostracized and attacked, that can have devastating consequences - not only physically, but on their emotional health for the rest of their life."
In the study - a survey conducted online that includes 444 junior high, high school and college students between the ages of 11 and 22, including 350 self-identified non-heterosexual subjects - 54% of the LGBT and allied youth reported being victims of cyberbullying in the 30 days prior to the survey.
Among the LGBT respondents, 45% reported feeling depressed as a result of being cyberbullied, 38% felt embarrassed, and 28% felt anxious about attending school. More than a quarter had suicidal thoughts.
So why is cyberbullying such a big deal? One could surmise that a simple disconnect from Facebook or a closing of a chat room box would fix said problem. That's one theory, but according to Blumenfeld, the effects of cyberbullying run deep because victims suffer from a feeling of helplessness. Forty percent of the LGBT students polled indicated that their parents wouldn't believe them if they were being bullied online. In other words, if Johnny punches Bobby, a black eye is all the proof a parent or educator needs. Online, a simple clearing of the chat history could erase initial evidence of cyberbullying.
In addition, 55% percent of the study's LGBT respondents reported that their parents "couldn't do anything to stop" cyberbullying. Fifty-seven percent also indicated that they didn't think a school official could do anything about it, either.
These days, according to Blumenfeld, more than half of the kids feared telling their parents about the cyberbullying because they might restrict their use of technology, which he says is often the "lifeline to the outside world" for LGBT students who have been ostracized by their peers at school.
Beyond just pointing out the problem, the ISU study also proposes strategies for cyberbullying prevention. Eighty percent of the survey's respondents indicated that their peers should do more to stop it. The researchers recommend developing social norms programming at schools that focuses on peer influence to correct misperceived social norms.
The study is being published in this month's special LGBT-themed issue of the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy.
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