Cyberbullying can be tougher to confront, researcher says [LasCrucesSunNews, by Christine Rogel, 26/12/2010]

LAS CRUCES – Nathaniel Rodriguez was bullied throughout middle school for being gay. He said kids would tease him, call him “faggot” and tell him he ran like a girl.

“It was never anything to the point where they would mess with me physically, just call me names. But I got tired of that. And then high school came around and I was like OK, fresh start,” Rodriguez, 18, said.

“I didn’t really come out to my friends in high school. So they didn’t really know who I was because I was hiding that part of me. I was just more scared of what it was going to be like. Kids are crueler,” he said.

Rodriguez said as part of his cover he dated girls, and that for awhile the teasing stopped.

“Then one of my friends actually found out. And me and him were really close, like really, really close friends. We would do everything together,” Rodriguez said. “And he was straight and he thought I was also.”

After finding out, his friend logged onto Rodriguez’s MySpace account and “outed” him to his 500 to 600 friends online, publishing lies about his behavior and even posturing as Rodriguez and breaking up with the girl he was dating.

Rodriguez, who was then living in Albuquerque, ended up switching schools.

Online threats are just as harmful as face-to-face bullying and sometimes there’s no escape, said Sheri Bauman, an associate professor at the University of Arizona and a recipient of National Science Foundation grant to study cyber bullying.

“Not too long ago there was a kid persistently victimized. The school made every attempt to stop it and eventually the student was advised to change schools. Well, with cyber bullying the information was already at the kid’s new school, making it more difficult for kids to cope with these types of situations,” Bauman said.

A study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2009 found that more than 13 percent of students have experienced cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is common on social networks, like Facebook or MySpace, but it also occurs frequently in text messages, e-mail and even on some online games and virtual reality sites like Second Life, Bauman said. More than half, 55 percent, of all online American youths ages 12 to 17 use online social networking sites, according to a 2007 survey of teenagers conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

As a result of being bullied online or offline, kids can feel depressed and anxious. They can withdraw and their performance in school and attendance can decrease, she said.

“Parents need to become educated about technology so they know what kids are talking about,” Bauman said.

Kids are often hesitant to tell parents or teachers about cyber bullying because they fear their technology will be taken away, she said.

“And that means they’re cut off from the world, their connected all of the time and they’d rather put up with the experience then risk being the only kids without Internet or a cell phone.”

Christine Rogel can be reached at (575) 541-5424.

Tips for parents

The Federal Trade Commission provides these tips on Internet safety for parents:

•Start early: As soon as your child is using a computer, a cell phone or any mobile device, it’s time to talk to them about online behavior, safety, and security.

•Create an honest, open environment: Be supportive and positive. Listening and taking their feelings into account helps keep conversation afloat. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about that can go a long way.

•Initiate conversations: Use everyday opportunities to talk to your kids about being online. For example, a TV program featuring a teen online or using a cell phone can tee up a discussion about what to do – or not – in similar circumstances.

•Communicate your values: Be upfront about your values and how they apply in an online context.

•Be patient: Most kids need to hear information repeated, in small doses, for it to sink in. If you keep talking with your kids, your patience and persistence will pay off. Work hard to keep the lines of communication open, even if you learn your kid has done something online you find inappropriate.

Source: Federal Trade Commission