Cyberbullying, more than just "messing around"

Mon May 11, 2009 12:49pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - If may affect as many as half of U.S. teenagers, can be as bad or worse than being beaten up in the schoolyard, and is so relentless and emotionally devastating that suicide can seem the only answer.

Whether it is through emails, instant messaging, cellphones, texting or web sites, cyberbullying is a growing problem.

In the past 10 years 37 U.S. states have adopted legislation mandating schools to implement anti-bullying statutes.

"It is becoming something that people recognize as a significant issue as more and more students start talking about it, and unfortunately, as these extreme cases of suicide and students hurting themselves is becoming more prevalent," said Dan Tarplin, the New York Educational Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which fights anti-Semitism and bigotry.

Unlike schoolyard taunts or fights, Tarplin said the anonymity of electronic media can embolden bullies and its pervasiveness enables a nasty comment, a harsh remark, an unflattering photo or video to be sent to countless numbers of people in an instant.

"With electronic forms of bullying there is no refuge," said Scott Hirschfeld, director of curriculum and training in ADL's education division, who created its program to raise awareness to counter cyberbullying.

"Here it is 24/7. It is always online. Even if you turn off your computer you know that web page is up, or that people are spreading this rumor about you. The relentlessness of it is very psychologically devastating."

MESSING AROUND   Continued...

<p>Ryan Halligan in an undated photo. The 13-year-old committed suicide in 2003 after years of bullying, both on and offline. REUTERS/Handout</p>