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Bullying in this Digital Age

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and there’s no better time than now to bring this epidemic to the forefront of every parent’s attention. Based on tragic tales of bullying both online and offline in the past years, it’s evident that behavior has become more aggressive and downright nasty. It’s unrealistic to think that we can eradicate bullying altogether, but as more serious cases of abuse come to our attention each day, it’s more important than ever that parents, educators and kids around the world focus on ways in which bullying behavior can be identified and addressed right away. 

Whereas before, when bullying took place in hallways and playgrounds, cyberbullying is on the rise as a pervasive and oftentimes more damaging form of abuse. From Facebook to sexting and emailing, there are so many more ways for kids to get bullied nowadays. MTV and The Associated Press recently revealed the results of a new study on the effect of bullying on today’s youth and it’s not pretty. 

Here are some of the statistics: 

-          76 percent of 14-24 year olds say digital abuse is a serious problem for their age

-          56 percent have experienced abuse through social and digital media

-          33 percent have sent or received “sext” messages on their cell phones or online

-          41 percent of respondents in a relationship have experienced some form of digital abuse

-          71 percent said people are more likely to use slurs online or in text messages than in person

-          46 percent believe it’s OK to use discriminatory words or phrases, as long as you make it clear that you’re “just kidding” 

Although the survey results are grim, there are signs that things may be changing a little bit. When compared to results from the last study conducted in 2009, there was an increase in respondents saying they would intervene if they saw someone being mean online, as well as an increase in respondents saying that the information they post online could get them in trouble with a boss or come back to hurt them in the future. 

If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, you can be left feeling helpless and alone. Luckily, with the rise in awareness over this growing problem, there are plentiful resources to help you. Connect Safely offers these tips for kids who are being bullied online:  

  • Don't respond. If someone bullies you, remember that your reaction is usually exactly what the bully wants. It gives him or her power over you. Who wants to empower a bully?
  • Don't retaliate. Getting back at the bully turns you into one and reinforces the bully's behavior. Help avoid a whole cycle of aggression.
  • Save the evidence. The only good news about digital bullying is that the harassing messages can usually be captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help. Save evidence even if it's minor stuff - in case things escalate.
  • Block the bully. If the harassment's coming in the form of instant messages, texts, or profile comments, do yourself a favor: Use preferences or privacy tools to block the person. If it's in chat, leave the "room." This may not end the problem, but you don’t need harassment in your face all the time, and no reaction sometimes makes aggressors bored so they’ll stop.
  • Reach out for help. You deserve backup. Of course you know there are different kinds of help, from talking with a friend to seeing if there’s a trusted adult who can help. It's usually good to involve a parent but - if you can't - a school counselor can sometimes be helpful. If you're really nervous about saying something, see if there's a way to report the incident anonymously at school. Sometimes this can result in bullies getting the help they need to change their behavior.
  • Use reporting tools. If the bullying took place via a social network, use that service’s reporting or “abuse” tools. The social network may also have “social abuse-reporting” tools, which allow you to forward hurtful content to a trusted friend or directly ask someone to take offensive content down. If the abuse threatens physical harm, you may have to call the police, but think about involving a parent if you do.
  • Be civil. You're doing yourself a favor. Even if you don't like a person, it's a good idea to be decent and not sink to his or her level. Research shows that gossiping about and "trash talking" others increase your risk of being bullied.
  • Don't be a bully. You know the old saying about walking a mile in someone's shoes; even a few seconds of thinking about how another person might feel can put a big damper on aggression. That's needed in this world.
  • Be a friend, not a bystander. Forwarding mean messages or just standing by and doing nothing empowers bullies and hurts victims even more. If you can, tell bullies to stop, or let them know bullying is not cool - it's cruel abuse of fellow human beings. If you can't stop the bully, at least try to help the victim and report the behavior.

The results of the MTV/AP study are part of the network's A Thin Line campaign to encourage young people to take action against digital abuse. MTV will be showing an original movie called "(DIS)CONNECTED," that touches upon the data from this study and explores being a teen in this digital age. "(DIS)CONNECTED" will be broadcasted on MTV on Monday, October 10, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.




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