Six months ago, Denise Weiss sat her 11-year-old down and talked about the perils of social media sites that allow users to post mean-spirited anonymous comments.
She then shut down her daughter’s page on ask.fm, a site popular with 11- to 14-year-olds.
But Weiss, of New City, wonders how many parents even know about ask.fm or similar sites where teens can post offensive messages anonymously, creating fertile ground for cyberbullying. Their disadvantage seems obvious when parents are trying to monitor their children’s Facebook accounts while the kids have moved on to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, video chat apps and YouTube, she said.
“When my older daughters were in middle school, they were on computers. Now (kids) are on smartphones,” said Weiss. “It’s hard for parents to keep up with the technology, keep up with the apps.”
While bullying is hardly uncommon among children, easy access to technology allows those who wouldn’t otherwise be an aggressor to do so. The problem is compounded by the fact that many times children don’t see the impact of their actions, which they think of as a joke.
An estimated 52 percent of students reported being cyberbullied, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. As many as 33 percent reported being threatened online while 25 percent said they’d been bullied through cellphones. Eleven percent of the teens said embarrassing or damaging pictures of them had been taken without permission, often using cellphone cameras.
Fifty-two percent of teens who reported being cyberbullied said they did not tell their parents about the experience. New York ranked number two among states with the highest level of bullying.
“The problem is across the board,” said Clarkstown Sgt. Christopher Goodyear. He said cyberbullying, much of it anonymously, was occurring as early as elementary school. “Trying to track that is time-consuming and not always successful.”
The police department has a couple of police officers who are trained in cybertechnology but they are not dedicated to fighting cyberbullying.
As instances of bullying in cyberspace increase, so do parents’ concerns about the consequences.
While reports of young men and women killing themselves after they were tormented on social media have made news, children who are bullied could become homicidal, plotting to avenge their humiliations by attacking their perpetrators, cautioned New City psychologist David Drassner.
However, both suicides and homicides are rare, he said. The overwhelming result of cyberbullying is that it can lead to anxiety, mood disorders, trouble sleeping and interpersonal problems.
Drassner recommends parents strictly monitor their children’s use of the Internet. The New York chapter of the Anti-Defamation League holds workshops for parents that give them tips about using the Internet and keeping track of their children’s online behavior. If they think their children are being bullied, parents are advised to keep records, report the incident and contact law enforcement.
Parents are only one part of reining in students. Schools have been hesitant to get involved in cases that happen off school grounds. But a law goes into effect in July requiring schools to report and investigate bullying, and report it to police if it rises to the level of harassment.