(updated) girls in the spotlight: Cyber-bullying

Could these girls be engaging in cyber-bullying? (image courtesy of babble.com)

Yesterday was my birthday and I decided to take the weekend and Monday off from blogging. I celebrated turning another year older by seeing an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, temporarily exhibited at the LBJ Library. I also spent the weekend with my family, eating delicious veggie fajitas and a homemade vegan chocolate peanut butter pie. But today is Tuesday, my birthday celebration is complete, and now it’s back to business as usual.

There’s been a lot of talk about girls and cyber-bullying in the press lately. Emily Bazelon from Slate magazine posted an article (“Have You Been Cyberbullied?“) a few weeks ago, asking for readers to share their experiences of cyber-bullying online and through text messages, in her quest to better understand this issue. Bazelon decided to write the article after reading a recent NYT article titled “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online.

The NYT article discusses a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that kids “ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day” with new media – including but not limited to video games, television, cell phones, ipods, and hanging out on social networking sites like facebook or myspace. Moreover, the article notes that because so many kids are “multitasking — say, surfing the Internet while listening to music — they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.” Are these numbers alarming in and of themselves? Tamar Lewin – the author behind the NYT article – thinks so, noting that this recent study “confirmed the fears of many parents whose children are constantly tethered to media devices.” Discussing parents’ fears and the very word “tethered” hint at kids’ possible addiction to new media.

Overall, the NYT article offers little new information on the subject of youth and technology. Basically kids are using technology and engaging with new media more and more. According to the study some kids are so busy online and texting that their grades suffer as a result or their parents describe the children as anti-social because of new media. In the end the study recommends for parents to limit and monitor the amount of time their children spend online.

Tina Meier, Megan's mother, holding images of her daughter (image courtesy of jezebel.com)

Emily Bazelon picks up where the NYT article leaves off, asking not how much kids spend time online or texting, but what are they actually doing during these 7 or 8 hours of every day. Bazelon asks and to some degree answers this very question in her article, “What are they doing there [online]? To some degree, alas, the answer is that they are doing harm or having harm done to them.” To back up her claim Bazelon cites a 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which found that one in three female teens said she’d been harassed online. In terms of this study, harassment included any of the following experiences and behaviors: “receiving threatening messages; having their private emails or text messages forwarded without consent; having an embarrassing picture posted without permission; or having rumors spread about them online.”

Bazelon has written on cyber-bullying before, and in fact she covered the case against Lori Drew – the mother who posed as a teenage boy online and cyber-bullied Megan Meier through social networking sites which prompted the 13-year-old to commit suicide. Bazelon argues that what makes cyber-bullying unique and uniquely dangerous is that this type of harassment is so easy to participate in, that “it may draw in kids who wouldn’t shout insults in the cafeteria or spread a slut rumor while hanging out with friends after school.”

Rachel Simmons, who discussed girls and cyber-bullying in her PBS special, A Girl’s Life, has also written about cyber-bullying on her blog. In a recent post Rachel argues that cyber-bullying is new in that it is able to permeate the walls and boundaries that used to separate school from home. Before cyber-bullying most kids could escape middle and high school bullying once they left school grounds and returned to the safety of their homes. But with cyber-bullying the harassment continues outside of school and schoolyards and affects kids’ online lives, which if they are “tethered” to new media 7 or 8 hours a day – then that means they are vulnerable to cyber-bully attacks just as often. In that same post Rachel offers some tips for talking to kids about cyber-bullying – both in terms of being the target of such harassment and doing your best to ensure that your child isn’t a bully. Rachel isn’t the only one reaching out to youth to discuss cyber-bullying.

There is a PSA out right now that addresses cyber-bullying. In the video (which you can view here at Adfreak.com) a young man seems to be giving a PSA on saving dolphins, when suddenly the youth reaches outside the youtube screen and pulls out a nasty comment someone left on his video. The PSA then discusses how cyber-bullying can seem so easy thanks to the anonymity of the online world, but that these mean-spirited comments still hurt. While I appreciate the cleverness of this video I think it misses the point a bit. In general when we’re talking about cyber-bullying most of us are not referring to anonymous people who leave nasty youtube comments. We’re talking about middle school and high school kids who are bullied at school and online by youth, other young people they maybe once considered friends. Moreover, I’ve only seen this video mentioned in articles on cyber-bullying and then I searched for the video myself. I mention this because I also wonder how many teens are encountering – and actually watching – this PSA. For instance I would love to know what youth-oriented sites are showing the PSA, and how much online traffic they receive in a given day.

Poster for the recently released film, urFRENZ (image courtesy of urFrenzmovie.com)

MTV is tackling cyber-bullying with a project titled A Thin Line. The site focuses on all youth-related issues connected to new media, from cyber-bullying to sexting – the subject of a MTV special airing on 02/14 – and the subject of an upcoming blog post here on Act Your Age.

There is also the film urFRENZ, released in 2009. The film seems loosely based on the Megan Meier’s case, as the story follows a mom who decides to cyber-bully a teenage girl, Catharine, who slighted her own daughter, Madison. The mom creates a profile of an imagined teenage boy whom Catharine falls madly in love with. I’m not sure how the film ends, or what genre the film is going for. The trailer – which you can see on the film’s website noted above – invokes terror and tension, suggesting urFRENZ is a thriller or possibly even a horror film. I’d be interested to know what information or message teens are taking away from this film, the MTV site, or the PSA . . . essentially how effective is our discussion and portrayal of this type of harassment in terms of deterring youth from participating in and remaining silent about cyber-bullying.

*** Update: Emily Bazelon has an article today on Slate about the death of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl who hanged herself after being relentlessly cyber-bullied by other girls at her school.

~ by actyourage09 on February 9, 2010.

3 Responses to “(updated) girls in the spotlight: Cyber-bullying”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shane Skillen, GiftWizards. GiftWizards said: girls in the spotlight: Cyber-bullying « Act Your Age http://bit.ly/aeoXdU […]

  2. I am the writer-director of the above mentioned film “urFRENZ,” which addresses the topic of cyberbullying. It has not been released yet; it actually just premiered at the Slamdance-Sundance Film Festival in January 2010. I wanted to comment that the film is NOT based on the Megan Meier case. Rather, the film is based on my own daughter and what my wife and I encountered policing her social networking for 2 years. (Though some elements of the film will remind the audience of the more sensational headline cases involving cyberbullying and sexting.)

    If you are interested in seeing this film secure a major theatrical release, please email me through the film’s website, urfrenzmovie.com.

    Jeff Phillips

    • Jeff – thank you for clarifying what inspired you to write and direct this film. I’d love it if urFRENZ screened in Austin and I’d like to have a chance to hear more about your personal experiences with cyber-bullying in relation to your daughter.

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