A summit hosted by New York City Council this week aired complaints and frustration from parents about the growing number of kids exposed to online harassment.
Between 30 and 50 percent of U.S. teens report having been a victim of cyber bullying, an audience of New York City educators, legislators, children's advocates and parents was told this week.
The audience, gathered for a special discussion on the issue at The Times Center in midtown Manhattan on Monday, heard from a succession of speakers who discussed how to identify children who have become victims of online bullying and how to protect them from this worrying trend.
“Cyber bullying has interfered with our children feeling safe and successful in school,” declared New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who hosted the event, titled “Worried about Cyber Bullying?”
The statistics, from a 2009 study by the Family Online Safety Institute at their Annual Conference , were among several presented at the summit, which was aimed at raising awareness of the serious effects of cyber bullying.
Some speakers noted there is a stark difference between traditional bullying, where the victim can physically walk away, and cyber bullying through the Internet, which is always within reach.
Cyber bullies—who might send threatening messages via cell phone, forward private e-mails, post embarrassing pictures on facebook or videos on YouTube, or even impersonate the victim online?can be anonymous and virtually invisible to parents and other adults, the audience was told.
One New York City physical education teacher, who called herself a “tough enforcer” of keeping cell phones out of her locker room, told the attendees that years ago, parents and teachers could “see” the effects of bullying and thus protect the student and prevent the abuse from continuing.
But, she explained, the cyber-world has made this more difficult.
“How can I be responsible for something I can no longer see?” she asked.
Parry Aftab, a child advocate and an Internet privacy and security lawyer, assured the audience that although the online world seems opaque, there are specific actions parents and students can take to protect themselves from online bullying.
There are “78 ways to cyberbully someone with a smartphone,” she said, noting that victims should “stop, block and tell,” advising victims not to react immediately to cyber bullying, to block all digital connection to the bully, and report the abuse to an adult.
But parents at the summit felt legislators and educators weren't doing enough to punish cyber bullies.
“Where are the cyber bullying police?” asked one angry mother of a thirteen year old from the Bronx.
Educators and legislators were unable to answer her question. Instead, they asked the audience to stand and take a “good digital citizen pledge” promising “we will not stand by, we will stand up.”
According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, 34 states have legislation addressing cyber bullying, with sanctions ranging from school detention to felony charges.
In perhaps the most well known case, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after he was cyber bullied by a roommate, Dharun Ravi, who posted intimate video of him online. The roommate was charged with 15 counts including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation and evidence tampering. Ravi pleaded not guilty to the 15 charges this past May.
New York City Council member Robert Jackson recalled that when he was a teenager he would always hear the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
It was never true then, he said, adding that it most certainly isn't true today, now that the cyber-world has become a constant presence in children's lives.
Cynthia Chan, a youth leader with Global Kids, urged parents, teachers, guidance counselors and every adult present to first offer advise not criticism to victims of cyber bullying and cyber harassment.
“We want your help, not your judgments,” said Chan. “So please keep in mind that just because you cannot see the physical bruises of cyber bullying, the pain is still there.” -said Chan.
Norhan Basuni is a summer intern with The Crime Report, She welcomes comments from readers.