Many Young people cannot remember a time before Instant Messaging (IM), cell phone text messaging, video conferencing, blogging, e-mailing, and MySpace and Facebook postings existed. Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of technology in the 21st century, digital natives are accustomed to seeing, and being seen, on a scale that was unimaginable by their parents and teachers. This limitless access to information, peers, and even strangers around the globe brings with it a new set of safety concerns for parents and school personnel. Although schools have made concerted e"orts to curb Internet abuse by developing acceptable use policies and installing filtering software for websites, expanded forms of technology and di"ering formats of information presentation have surfaced, and they warrant a new discussion of digital safety, abuse, and bullying.
Bullying, and being bullied, has a long history in schools. How does giftedness relate to bullying and being bullied? In a recent survey of fifth-grade students, Estell et al. (2009) found that academically gifted students and general education students were less likely than students with mild disabilities to be viewed as bullies by their peers. Teachers also rated academically gifted students as less likely to bully or be bullied than both general education students and students with mild disabilities. Key factors in being perceived as a bully were associations with aggressive and popular peers. Social isolates were the most likely to be bullied. Whereas gifted students are less likely to bully or be bullied according to this research, bullying is still a factor in their lives.
Peterson and Ray (2006) surveyed eighth-grade gifted students and found that bullying tended to peak in sixth grade, although females reported that bullying remained steady or increased through eighth grade. Almost half, 46%, of gifted students reported that they were bullied in sixth grade in some way, and 67% of the students said they had been the victim of some type of bullying in their 1rst 9 years of school. Eleven percent of these students were bullied repeatedly. Namecalling was the most prevalent form of bullying these gifted students experienced. They also reported that they bully. Over one fourth (28%) of gifted eighth graders said they had bullied someone during their 1rst 9 years of school, and 16% reported bullying someone while they were in eighth grade. The most prevalent bullying tactic was name-calling, which increased from 4% in kindergarten to 14% in eighth grade.
The Internet and other technology-related devices are particularly suited to nonviolent types of bullying such as name-calling. Gable, Ludlow, Kite, and McCoach (2009) studied the prevalence of cyberbullying with a general population of seventh and eighth graders. The researchers classified students into one of four categories: neither bullies nor victims of cyberbullying (74%), victims only of cyberbullying (5%), only cyberbullies (6%), and both bullies and victims of cyberbullying (15%). Although three quarters of the students had no involvement with cyberbullying, one in five had been digitally bullied and one in five had digitally bullied others. Unfortunately, those who bullied or were victims said they were less likely to notify adults about Internet bullying than those who were not bullied. Bullies and victims also said their parents were less aware of their Internet activities. High-frequency Internet users were more likely to be both bullies and victims than low Internet users. An AP/ MTV (2009) survey found that 47% of teenagers surveyed have experienced digitally abusive behavior.
So what is cyberbullying? Willard (2007) described it as “being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material or engaging in other forms of social aggression using the Internet or other digital technologies” (p. 1). She listed eight di"erent forms of cyberbullying:
Goodstein (2008) remarked:
In many ways cyberbullying has democratized bullying because you don’t have to be able to physically overpower your victim—a person can simply log on, create a new identity, and bully away. . . . Instead of whispers behind teens’ backs, the insults are posted for everyone to read. Instead of one . . . silently listening in on a phone conversation, two . . . can watch incriminating IMs from an unsuspecting “buddy” pop up on a computer screen. Instead of a clique not letting . . . [someone] sit with them at lunch, a group of friends can decide to keep . . . [that person] off everyone’s buddy lists.(p. 1)
According to an AP-MTV (2009) poll, more than 75% of 14- to 24-yearolds believe that digital abuse is a serious problem for people their age. Yet, only about half believe that what they post online could come back to hurt them. This is at a time when 24% of 14- to 17-year-olds report having been involved in some type of naked sexting. Sexting, which is sending or forwarding nude, sexually suggestive, or explicit pictures on a cell phone or online, was listed as Time magazine’s number one buzzword of 2009 (Stephey, 2009). Females are more likely to have sent naked photos of themselves, and males are more likely to have received them. Well more than half (61%) of those who send naked photos of themselves have been pressured by someone else to do so at least once. Nearly one in five who receive sext messages pass them along to someone else (AP-MTV, 2009).
The snowballing effect of forwarded sexting can be dire. An 18-year-old Ohio girl committed suicide after her ex-boyfriend shared a digital nude photo of her from the neck down that she had sent to him. He shared the image with other students in her school, who in turn distributed it widely. After the Ohio girl sought to have the distribution of the image stopped by reporting it to authorities, students allegedly escalated their harassment of her. Her parents are currently suing the ex-boyfriend, several former high school classmates, and the school for failing to stop the harassment (Zetter, 2009).
The media surrounding this, and other incidents, has prompted a national movement to address the issue of digital abuse. MTV has organized a year-long campaign called “A Thin Line” to empower young people to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse in their lives and their peers’ lives (A Thin Line, 2009). This campaign included an MTV television special dedicated to the topic on Valentine’s Day in 2009. A dozen other organizations have joined this timely project.
Parents and educators play an important role in helping young people understand the consequences of poor decisions in a digital age where favorable, as well as unfavorable, text and images spread exponentially. Hinduja and Patchin (2009a, 2009b) of the Cyberbullying Research Center have an extensive website (http://cyberbully.org/) dedicated to this topic. The following tips to parents and educators for preventing cyberbullying are adapted from material on their site (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009a, 2009b):
Cell phones and the Internet have helped us connect and learn from each other in ways that most of us never imagined. We have only begun to explore the benefits that these, and future technologies, will bring to our lives. As with many things, it is not the technology, but the misuse of it, that creates problems. As responsible parents and educators, we have an obligation to understand the potential uses of new technologies and guide young people in their responsible implementation of them.
A Thin Line. (2009). A thin line.
AP-MTV. (2009). A thin line: 2009 APMTV digital abuse study.
Estell, D. B., Farmer, T. W., Irvin, M. J., Crowther, A., Akos, P., & Boudah, D. J. (2009). Students with exceptionalities and the peer group context of bullying and victimization in late elementary school. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18, 136–150. doi: 10.1007/ s10826-008-9214-1
Gable, R. K., Ludlow, L., Kite, S., & McCoach, D. B. (2009, April). Development and validation of the Survey of Internet Risk and Behavior. Roundtable presentation at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.
Goodstein, A. (2008). Cyberbullying: The new bathroom wall. Duke Gifted Letter, 8(2). Retrieved from https://tip.duke.edu/node/875
Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2009a). Preventing cyberbullying: Top ten tips for educators. Retrieved from http://cyberbullying.org/Top-Ten-Tips-Educators-Cyberbullying-Prevention.pdf
Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2009b). Preventing cyberbullying: Top ten tips for parents. Retrieved from http://cyberbullying.org/Top-Ten-Tips-Parents-Cyberbullying-Prevention.pdf
Peterson, J. S., & Ray, K. E. (2006). Bullying and the gifted: Victims, perpetrators, prevalence, and effects. Gifted Child Quarterly, 50, 148–168. doi: 10.1177/001698620605000206
Stephey, M. J. (2009). The top 10 everything of 2009: Top 10 buzzwords.
Williard, N. (2007). Educator’s guide to cyberbullying and cyberthreats. Retrieved from www.cyberbully.org/
Zetter, K. (2009). Parents of dead teen sue school over sexting images.
This article is reprinted with permission from Prufrock Press, Inc. http://www.prufrock.com/.
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