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Has Social Media Made Bullying Worse in Howard County?

Is bullying really worse than it used to be? If it is, should we blame the Internet?

The Columbia story of Noah Brocklebank has gained national attention as the latest high-profile story about bullying. That often prompts the question from Patch readers: Is bullying really worse than it used to be? If it is, should we blame the Internet?

There’s no consensus among experts on those questions, but there is consensus that 1) bullying is a huge problem that’s only beginning to be addressed, and 2) new forms of bullying require new forms of support.

Once people understand the scale of the problem, they usually have a new question: How can I help?

The scale of the bullying problem

About 18 percent of U.S. students said they are afraid that someone will hurt or bother them at school, according to a survey on youth risk behavior published by the CDC in June 2012. According to the same survey, 16 percent said they'd been “cyberbullied” through email, online chat, instant messaging, social media or text.

We’ve seen an increased focus on bullying over the past two decades by the media and by schools. (The first anti-bullying law was passed in Georgia in 1999, after the Columbine shooting. As of January 2012, 48 U.S. states had anti-bullying laws in effect.)

The bullying-suicide connection

A 2008 review of studies conducted by researchers at Yale found signs of a link between bullying and suicidal thoughts in children. “While there is no definitive evidence that bullying makes kids more likely to kill themselves, now that we see there’s a likely association, we can act on it and try to prevent it,” said Yale’s Young-Shin Kim, M.D.

What does that “likely association” look like in an individual case? Consider Jessica Marie Laney, a 16-year-old Florida high school student who committed suicide December 9, 2012. Laney had an account on Ask.fm, a social media website that allows users to ask questions and make anonymous comments.

Cruel comments on Laney’s Ask.fm page (jessicamarieee1) referred to her as “fat” and a “loser.” One anonymous comment that appeared shortly before her death read, “Can you just kill yourself already.”

Some friends think comments like that played a role in her death. But police and school officials don’t draw any direct connection.

How Can I Help?

Bullying is now a subject of intense scrutiny in the media, in schools, and among experts. But a bullied student needs to hear from peers and authority figures.

The most important thing you can do: If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

And many other people choose to use social media as a way to fight back against bullying. Brocklebank’s story is an example of that, and so is P.J. Moccaldi, a fellow classmate and friend of Laney's: After Laney died, Moccaldi created the Facebook page RIP Jessica Laney Never Forgotten, where people can share thoughts about her. In one post, he writes, “Remember what you say to people you never know the outcome countless lives have been takin from bullys.” 

See related links:

Bullied Columbia Teen Receives Thousands of Messages of Support After Mother's Social Media Plea

School Staff Now Allowed To Probe Social Media for Online Threats

Guest Column: Why I Bullied

Ray Rice Moved by Stories of Bullying

Howard County Takes Stand Against Bullying

Jessica February 13, 2013 at 04:55 PM
Bullying is a behavior that is known to almost all animal species on the planet. Sadly, it is in our nature to single out the weak ones and pick on them. It's biological. It's been going on since the dawn of man and there is no way to get rid of it! That being said, the best thing we can do is get our kids OFF of social media as long as possible every day. We have to teach them that the bullies are the weak minded ones that are in need of help.
Mother Goose February 14, 2013 at 03:09 PM
Part 1) "Some friends think comments like that played a role in her death. But police and school officials don’t draw any direct connection." The police and school officials are not the people who should be attempting to draw connections in these situations. A course in Psych 101 does not give anyone the ability to analyze situations like the tragic story of Jessica and others. Only teams of trained professionals in the mental health field working with and learning from thousands of people who have or are being bullied can offer us “direct connections”.
Mother Goose February 14, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Part 2) Personally, I believe parents should spend more time parenting their own children instead of Face booking and twittering themselves while expecting the village to raise their child. In case you haven’t noticed, the village is gone! That theory may have worked in the 50’s and 60’s when we lived in eras where people bought homes and raised their families in blocks of people doing the same thing and knew each other. Instead of concerning yourselves with what’s going on in everyone else's family, make your own family your top priority. Get to know your own children. Do you know if your child is the one following the sad, lonely girl in the funny clothes (possibly an abused or neglected child at home) down the halls calling her names? Do you now if your own child is being tormented at school for being different in any way like wearing a hearing aid or simply being timid? Parents, you might know this if you sat down to dinner (even if it is at a food court) and turned off your own cell phone and TALKED and LISTENED to your child or children. ALWAYS let them know that they can come to you with anything that’s troubling them.
Mother Goose February 14, 2013 at 03:26 PM
Part 3) Don’t let your children go to their separate rooms in the evenings and all weekend and believe that all is well in your house because the kids are quiet. Most parents know when their kids are too quiet is when you need to check in on them. I apologize for this turning into more of a commentary than a comment, it could have been a book. For those of you out there who still have your children, give them lots of hugs today and tell them they will always be your little valentines no matter how old or tall they grow. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Joe mcafee February 14, 2013 at 03:37 PM
We're all in this together so the more we can talk about this the Better it's going to be . Structures that support kids having a place to be in communication without fear of being attacked for speaking up will be a step towards a better world . Joe
Christine T. February 14, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Sooo tired of hearing the whining about bullying these days. I'm a '94 graduate of Centennial High & went through,& saw,some terrible cases of constant bullying. Mainly by the jocks & "popular" girls in school,who were only "popular" for one reason. I went through a lot & was put on meds that screwed me up even more. Eventually I realized in college how stupid & insecure those people were. I think kids these days have thin skins & get way too dramatic over really ridiculous issues. The internet doesn't help,but we learn to deal with what life throws at us & LEARN from it. My honest advice... Teach your kids to stand up for themselves,physically or mentally,because life only gets harder.
EL February 15, 2013 at 11:38 PM
Christine, I am truly sorry you had such a difficult time in high school. I sympathize as I, too, was the victim of some major bullying. Followed down the street by 3 people calling me horrible names, commenting on my personal appearance. To this day I cannot tell you why I did not confide in my family. I think I was ashamed that this happened to me. I did manage to overcome it as- it sounds like - so did you. Not everyone is that strong. AND there is no good reason to just let bullying happen. Truly would not your growing up have been a better experience for you if someone HAD stepped in and made it stop? Additionally, bullying is different now. With the technology, it has a bigger audience than ever. My issue was confined to those couple of people and me. True, they could share with their friends - and probably did. But it doesn't have the same horrible impact as having these things spread by twitter to almost everyone in your grade or school; or shared on facebook - again to a large community. Soon these victims truly feel the world - THE WORLD - is against them. At home, they can avoid these social media if they wish but they are aware that the comments are out there. So if they sign onto facebook, they will see public comments. They will receive private messages. Their home has been invaded too. It is different, bigger, worse. Good luck to you! Standing up is good advice! More needs to be done.
MG42 February 18, 2013 at 11:26 PM
Yes, it has. I've even seen an elderly woman tweeting about HR Puf to columbia patch on twitter.

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