After the highly publicized suicides of several US teens, a nation-wide discussion about the dangers of bullying has been sparked. In Massachusetts, 9 teens are facing charges for their bullying, which, prosecutors argue, led to the suicide of 15 year-old Phoebe Prince in January. As in the case of Phoebe Prince, modern bullying often takes place off school grounds in a form that past generations were more protected from. Nowadays, cyberbullying (bullying online or through cell phones) is becoming increasingly common.
An article in Psychology in the Schools outlines some of the elements differentiate cyberbullying from regular bullying. The author reviews past research on online behaviour among children, in an attempt to understand why young people are increasingly becoming involved in cyberbullying. According to the authors, there is much research suggesting that the anonymity of the Internet is fostering disinhibition and reducing concern for others. Psychologists and authors of the book “Mean Girls, Meaner Women” seem to support this; they argue that bullying is becoming increasingly common because young people aren’t being require to interact with each other face-to-face, and instead learn communication skills over the Internet. If this is the case, perhaps we should expect to see an increase in other examples of anti-social behaviour from teens who intensively communicate online.
However, it also might be a bit unfair to place the blame entirely on the Internet, when other factors (e.g. parenting, education, etc.) probably still play a strong, if not stronger, role in developing children’s sense of right and wrong. Perhaps the Internet provides a new setting for bullies to harass victims, a place harder for victims to get away from. But maybe those kids would have been bullies even before the Internet and cell phones.