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Has Online Bullying Reached Epidemic Proportions?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

Phoebe Prince. Tyler Clementi. Seth Walsh. Jessica Logan. Asher Brown. Billy Lucas.

All of these kids committed suicide after being bullied online (and in some cases, also in person) by classmates. Just how many more names have to be added to the list before we realize that cyberbullying has become a threat of epidemic proportions?

Phoebe Prince, who was from Ireland, was cruelly taunted—and physically harmed—at school and online by classmates in Massachusetts for the “crime” of dating a popular senior boy. Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old from California, hanged himself after ongoing cyberbullying over his sexual orientation. In 2008, Jessica Logan committed suicide after her ex-boyfriend circulated nude photos she had sexted to him. 

And tragically, last week, Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student from Ridgewood, N.J., jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his college room mate, Dharun Ravi, live streamed Clementi’s sexual encounter with another male student. Ravi tweeted: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” The maximum prison time Ravi could serve is 5~10 years, depending on the charges. Molly Wei, the student who lent Ravi her computer to watch the encounter and stream the video, is also being charged. Some are viewing this incident as a hate crime.

As a parent, I have to ask, when is this going to stop? With all the bullying awareness sessions at school, books, articles and special assemblies, why does the situation seem to be getting worse rather than better?

Sadly, the answer is that it’s not going to stop, but I think we can do something about it. Personally, I think prosecuting students who bully is a step in the right direction. We need to our kids to understand what they are really doing when they bully or post something cruel about someone on the Internet—and we need kids who are victims of bullying to be empowered to talk to adults who can make it stop.

While I don’t completely agree with the way the father who confronted his daughter’s bullies on a bus in Florida recently took matters into his own hands, I understand his reaction. When your child is being hurt and the school doesn’t seem to be doing enough—or anything—what should a parent do?

What Parents Can Do:

  • It bears repeating: supervise your child’s computer use. Make sure the computer is in a common area, and check in to see what they’re doing online.
  • Check in with your child’s teachers or school administrators and find out what the school’s policy is on bullying and cyber bullying
  • Tell your kids not to return nasty texts or emails, but to make copies of them in order to show them to the appropriate authorities.
  • If your child seems withdrawn, depressed, plays sick a lot to avoid school and starts skipping social events, talk to them.
  • Make sure your child realizes he or she should never, under any circumstances, reveal passwords to anyone. There have been many cases where friendships have turned sour and ex-friends have revealed “secret” passwords to others.
  • If your child is being taunted online or via text, teach them how to block messages from bullies. One such plan for cell phones is AT&T’s Smart Limits.

It’s heartbreaking to realize that it’s too late for Phoebe, Seth, Jessica and Tyler and too many other kids, but I firmly believe that our actions might help prevent another child from being bullied—and might even help prevent a child from taking his own life.

What do you think? Do these suicides over cyberbullying call for tougher laws regarding invasion of privacy and malicious acts online? And how do you monitor your child’s online activities? Do you talk to them about cyberbullying, and if so, what do you say?


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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