Category
Title The Viciousness of Virtual Bullying
Author/s June Hunt, Hope for the Heart
Preview
Text

The Viciousness of Virtual Bullying
By June Hunt, Founder of Hope for the Heart, counselor, author, and radio host

"You are a bad person, and everybody hates you.... The world would be a better place without you."* This was the last of many cruel, demeaning messages Megan Meier received on October 16, 2006, from a teenage boy she had recently become "friends" with on Myspace. Megan, like countless other teenagers, was a victim of virtual bullying, also known as cyberbullying.
 
Bullying Defined and Assessed
Bullying is repeated, hostile behavior toward a specific individual or individuals, often because of unique qualities, characteristics, or behaviors of the individual or individuals. Its purpose is to isolate and exclude in order to dominate, exercise power, and maintain control. A bully is often motivated by fear and a sense of insecurity or inferiority. Thousands of children in the United States are bullied each week, and the emotional damage they sustain can have an impact on them for their entire lives. The most comprehensive nationwide study of bullying ever conducted—involving more than 15,000 students in grades 6 through 10—found that over 24 percent of the students had been bullied during the school year. Additionally, 8 percent of those students endured bullying on a weekly basis (Nansel, Overpeck, Pilla, et al. 2001, 2096).

Megan's Story
Megan was almost 14 years old, and she was planning her upcoming birthday party. She was dealing with the changes and challenges that adolescence brings to teenage girls ... self-esteem issues, roller-coaster friendships, and concerns with weight and boys. Like many teenagers, Megan communicated and developed friendships through social media. Myspace was popular among her friends, and when a "cute" 16-year-old named Josh Evans flashed a smile across her computer screen and showed interest in her, she was elated.

The Scope of Cyberbullying
According to a recent study, 88 percent of teens on social media have observed cruel, hateful, or derogatory communication, while 15 percent have been the target themselves of online cruelty (Lenhart, Madden, Smith, et al. 2011, 3).

"Cyberbullying occurs when electronic means-e-mail, texts, social media, etc.-are used intentionally to harass, intimidate, shame, and hurt others. The digital world provides cyberbullies a ubiquitous tool for spreading hurtful messages quickly and almost effortlessly ... reaching a multiplied audience each time the message is shared" (Hunt 2012).

Cyberbullying Can Cause Fatal Damage
For six weeks Megan and Josh continued an online flirtation through messages. Meanwhile, Megan's parents kept a close watch on their daughter's online presence and activities. They continually monitored Megan's account and communications, knew her password, and permitted her to accept the friend request from Josh.

But suddenly Megan's friendship with Josh began to unravel rapidly. Josh sent her a message that he no longer wanted to be her friend because he had heard that she was mean. Josh's critical message sparked a barrage of crude, demeaning posts: "Megan Meier is a slut." "Megan Meier is fat." Megan responded angrily, and when her mom intervened and made her sign off, Megan ran to her room sobbing.

Twenty minutes later when Tina Meier entered her daughter's room, she encountered tragedy beyond her worst fears. Megan had hung herself in the closet.

What Differentiates Bullying
Sometimes confusion exists over what constitutes bullying. Bullying appears to be underreported because victims are reluctant to discuss the issue with school officials or parents. Bullied students may withdraw because they feel powerless to confront their bully, fear further retribution, or feel hopeless that the abuse will stop.

While children are often bullied because they are perceived to be "different," bullying is a complex problem that is unlike "normal" relational conflict. With most conflict, both the involved parties hold a measure of power. With bullying, on the other hand, one person or group of people hold all the power, and it is used to demean and exclude others. Bullying is challenging to resolve, and children or teens rarely can overcome it on their own.

The Truth about Josh Evans
Josh Evans ... that "cute" teenage boy who first wooed Megan Meier and then wounded her ... actually never existed. After Megan had a falling-out with a neighbor girl down the street, the teen neighbor's mother (with the aid of her daughter and a family employee) had allegedly created the false profile of Josh Evans, complete with false pictures.

The mother reportedly wanted to gain Megan's confidence in order to discover what she might be saying about her daughter and to cause mental confusion. She gave the profile password to her daughter's friends and encouraged them to send malicious messages to Megan. These proved to be among the final messages she ever received. Although the mother was convicted by a jury on three misdemeanor charges of unauthorized computer access, a federal judge overturned the verdicts and acquitted her.

You, Your Child, and Social Media
In 2011, 95 percent of all American teens used the Internet and 80 percent of those teens maintained a presence on social media (Lenhart, Madden, Smith, et al. 2011, 2). Increasingly, our lives and friendships seemingly develop as much on the Web as in person. What can you do to help your child enjoy the benefits and avoid the pitfalls of social media?

  • Purposefully connect with your child's online community.
  • Determine whether your child's age and maturity merit involvement in social media.
  • Develop guidelines and set limits with your child concerning the use of blogging and social media, including subject matter, tone, and time devoted to a Web presence.
  • Join and be active (or at least) monitor your child's connections and communication techniques on Facebook, Twitter, message boards, blogs, and school-sponsored or other social media.
  • Review the terms of use and community standards of social media platforms to ensure compliance and to follow designated procedures for reporting violations.

"Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:10-12, NIV).

 
Megan Meier's life ended tragically the day she was scheduled to have her braces removed and three weeks before her 14th birthday. Be involved in the lives of your children and be a consistent voice of kindness and support in your online community. Stand against bullying so that other children's stories will not end like Megan's.

Take Action to Stop Bullying
So what can be done to stop child and teen bullying? Thankfully, quite a bit! To address this important question, Hope for the Heart has prepared "7 Steps to Stop Bullying" resource sheet. It's available online on the Hope for the Heart website as a free download; visit www.hopefortheheart.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/09/7-steps-to-stop-bullying.pdf. We encourage you to read it ... Then pass it on to parents and educators in your community.

We often think of children and teens when we think of "bullies"; however, I am well aware that these masters of mayhem can manifest at any age. You see, I grew up in a home where my father was a type of bully. Because he was twice my mother's age when they married, there was a huge imbalance of power (a factor bullies are quick to exploit). While I praise God that my dad changed shortly before his death, this change didn't erase the wounds from years of verbal and emotional abuse.

As an educator, I encourage you to be a consistent voice of kindness and support to those you teach and to your peers. Stand firm with Hope for the Heart against bullying by encouraging the respectful, compassionate treatment of all people.

Notes
*For all references to Megan Meier and to read her complete story, see "Megan Meier's Story" by Steve Pokin (originally posted in the St. Charles Journal, November 13, 2007), www.meganmeierfoundation.org/megansStory.php.

References
Hunt, June. 2012. 7 steps to stop bullying. Plano, TX: Hope for the Heart. www.hopefortheheart.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/09/7-steps-to-stop-bullying.pdf.

Lenhart, Amanda, Mary Madden, Aaron Smith, Kristen Purcell, Kathryn Zickuhr, and Lee Rainie. 2011. Teens, kindness, and cruelty on social network sites. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2011/PIP_Teens_Kindness_Cruelty_SNS_Report_Nov_2011_FINAL_110711.pdf.

Nansel, Tonja R., Mary Overpeck, Ramani S. Pilla, W. June Ruan, Bruce Simons-Morton, and Peter Scheidt. 2001. Bullying behaviors among US youth. Journal of the American Medical Association 285, no. 16: 2,094-2,100. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=193774.

June Hunt, counselor, author, radio host, and founder of the worldwide ministry Hope for the Heart, offers a biblical perspective while coaching people through some of life's most difficult problems. Learn more about June and Hope for the Heart by visiting www.hopefortheheart.org. You can connect with June on Facebook at www.facebook.com/june.hunt.hope and Twitter at https://twitter.com/junehunthope, listen to her radio broadcasts at http://www.hopefortheheart.org/ministries/broadcast-ministry/listen-online, or find much-needed resources on the Hope for the Heart website. Hope for the Heart's Care Center provides spiritual guidance, heartfelt prayer, and biblical wise counseling. Call 800-488-HOPE (4673) to visit with a Hope Care Representative, 7:30 am until 1:30 am (CST).

Notice: These articles are designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. They have been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.

LLU 23.2

 

Download The Viciousness of Virtual Bullying