Social media allows people to communicate in ways that were unimaginable 10 years ago. Unfortunately, in some cases this can do more harm than good. The freedom of the Internet provides opportunities for bullies to hide behind their computer screens and relentlessly target others. This trend is called cyberbullying, and it is currently running rampant.
According to data collected by the i-SAFE foundation, more than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats online. Unfortunately, it appears that this is no miniscule issue – cyberbullying has been diffusing across state lines since the dawn of the technological age.
Most recently, Kathleen Edwards, a 9-year-old girl in Michigan, was viciously attacked by her neighbor via Facebook. Kathleen was a victim of Huntington’s Disease, and her neighbor posted pictures of Kathleen with a set of crossbones over her head. She also posted photographs of Kathleen’s mother, who recently died from Huntington’s, lying in the arms of an edited-in Grim Reaper. Shortly after enduring this harassment, Kathleen passed away.
Such intense cyberbullying can make everyday life a struggle for young people, and in some cases it becomes too much to handle. In fact, it has led many teenagers to take their own lives. In Massachusetts, a 16-year-old girl hanged herself after a relentless three months of cyberbullying. Sadly, her death is not an isolated incident.
Lauren Kreutzer has seen the devastating effects of cyberbullying and has taken it upon herself to help prevent future suicides. Kreutzer, a 26-year-old currently living Indianapolis, Indiana runs a suicide-preventative blog called “For Now Just Carry On.” She has witnessed the effects of bullying firsthand after being ridiculed because of her weight and she has made it her mission to help others who are victimized. “I attempted suicide myself four years ago. I use that connection now to help others,” Kreutzer said. “I have talked 103 young adults out of committing suicide, and others often message me telling me I’ve saved them just by what I have posted or what I have said to someone else in need.”
According to Kretuzer, anonymity is one of the main appeals of cyberbullying. “If someone were to bully one of his or her peers in the middle of a school hallway, people might jump to the person’s defense,” Kreutzer said. “In an online situation, an accuser doesn’t have to worry about the backlash.” Kreutzer also said that social media wasn’t very popular when she was in high school, but believes that if it had been that she would have been a victim.
Just because she didn’t experience cyberbullying firsthand, Kreutzer still knows just how damaging these types of attacks can be. Of the teens she has helped, Kreutzer has realized a trend in the types of cyberbullying that young people experience. “The most common concerns I’m messaged with are cases of bullying because of sexuality,” Kreutzer said. “For some ignorant reason, people love to tear other people apart simply for being themselves.” For this reason, Kreutzer has made sure that her blog is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual) friendly.
So what can parents do if their child is being cyberbullied? The first step is becoming aware and involved, because in most cases parents have no idea that there is a problem at all. “Parents are very ignorant to teens’ social lives in most cases. It’s important to ask children what is going on in their lives,” Kreutzer said. In order to do this, she suggests parental controls on the Internet and family dinners to help keep parents and children on the same page.
In most cases, peers know more than adults know about bullying that is taking place. This means that the opportunity to stand up for others rests predominately in the hands of today’s youth. Kreutzer strongly advocates taking a stand and organizing anti-bullying groups in schools. “There is power in numbers,” Kreutzer said. “When more people are there to speak up for others, it is harder for bullies to succeed.”
On a larger scale, many states have recognized the expansion of cyberbullying and have begun to implement anti-bullying laws. Currently, Indiana does not have a cyberbullying law but it does have other laws regarding harassment and trespassing online. Indiana Senator Tom Wyss is currently trying to expand the law to include cyberbullying.
Even with a new law in the works and caring supporters such a Kreutzer, the fact of the matter is that cyberbullying still exists and it probably always will. The web is essentially an open forum – it is easy for people to post anonymously and hide behind their screens. However, it is important for young people to remember that life will get better and the future will be brighter, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time. “Perspective is always a good way to get around a hard time,” Kreutzer said. “Just remember that it is merely a bad time in your life, not a bad life.”
Editor’s Note: Kreutzer’s blog can be found at www.fornowjustcarryon.tumblr.com. At the time of publication, the number of lives saved was 103. This figure could be higher now.