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Cyber Bullying and Youth

By Patricia Agatston, Ph.D.

Cyber bullying is aggressive online behavior that involves posting harmful material or sending hurtful messages.  Like traditional bullying, cyber bullying is typically repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power that makes it difficult for the targeted person to defend him or herself.  Examples of the imbalance of power online may be due to the offender hiding his or her identity, a group targeting one person, a more popular student targeting another, or a person with better computer skills impersonating someone online or altering an individual’s profile information.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a group of high school leaders about their use of technology and the issue of cyber bullying.  These students confirmed how critically important technology is to their social world.  When asked how they would feel if they lost access to technology, the youth responded with the following words: 

  • Depressed
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Disconnected
  • Isolated
  • Lonely
  • Lost

As increasing numbers of young people socialize through technology, it makes sense that bullying and peer conflict are also occurring online – often to wide audiences.  The high school leaders I spoke with confirmed that online bullying was a big problem, and they expressed concerns that cyber bullying can be even more destructive than face-to-face bullying.  One of the students discussed how much easier it is to be mean online when you are removed physically from the person you are targeting.  The students were also in agreement that technology can escalate and intensify the social drama of school.  

But the teens also pointed out that technology can be a very effective tool for supporting one other.  One student shared how it can be easier to help a peer who is being bullied through technology by offering private messages of support or by posting positive comments about peers who are being targeted on social networking sites or public forums.  They cautioned however, that youth should avoid escalating abusive behavior with public comments that are also aggressive. They felt that in many cases the private messages of support would be most effective in helping targeted peers.

I would really appreciate hearing from other teens about what steps we can take to reduce online abuse, and how we can encourage youth to avoid using technology to hurt others or escalate conflict.  We all need to work together to ensure that socializing online occurs in a supportive rather than a destructive manner.

About the author: Dr. Agatston, co-author of Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age, was involved in some of the earliest research into cyber bullying. Her expertise has been showcased at both national and international conferences and featured in noted publications such as Time Magazine, The Washington Post, and CNET News. With over twenty years of experience as a counselor and prevention specialist, Dr. Agatston is also a two-time recipient of the Coalition for Child Abuse Prevention’s VIP award. For helpful resources or to schedule a presentation, visit

Dr. Agatston agreed to write this guest blog entry to help celebrate our first full year of education through blogging! We need your help too. Use the comments section below to offer your ideas on how to reduce cyber bullying. Your feedback could be used in Dr. Agatston’s upcoming book.

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