Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones, Cyberbullying Can Potentially Kill

Cyberbullying. Heard of it? It’s a form of bullying that is sadly on the increase today. It involves young people harassing or being harassed by their peers through email, instant messaging and social networking sites, and is often hard to spot because, without a physical confrontation, the evidence is easily concealed, and victims of such bullying often feel embarrassed and are reluctant to tell their parents or school officials.

A soon to be released study by Iowa State University study finds that, when it comes to cyberbullying, young people that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), as well as their straight allies, are hit hard by this form of harassment, and with potentially lethal consequences.

The study reveals that, of those surveyed, one out of every two LGBT and straight ally students have experienced cyberbullying. Moreover, due to the nature of this kind of “stealth” bullying, it is often very hard for schools and parents to detect.
From the ISU release:

And according to a new national study by Iowa State University researchers, one out of every two lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and allied youths are regular victims of “cyberbullying,” which causes psychological and emotional distress to victims — producing thoughts of suicide in some who are repeatedly victimized.

In the online survey of 444 junior high, high school and college students between the ages of 11 and 22 — including 350 self-identified non-heterosexual subjects — 54 percent of the LGBT and allied youth reported being victims of cyberbullying in the 30 days prior to the survey. Cyberbullying includes attacks such as electronic distribution of humiliating photos, dissemination of false or private information, or targeting victims in cruel online polls.

The study also assess the emotional state of respondents, attempting to find out how badly they have been effected by these attacks. It also attempts to get a sense of how pervasive that damage is. In a section of the study overview entitled “Cyberbullying Stimulates Suicidal Thoughts” the findings were worrying:

Among the non-heterosexual respondents, 45 percent reported feeling depressed as a result of being cyberbullied, 38 percent felt embarrassed, and 28 percent felt anxious about attending school. More than a quarter (26 percent) had suicidal thoughts.

“There’s a saying that we’ve now changed to read, ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can kill,’” said Warren Blumenfeld, an Iowa State assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and the study’s lead author. “And especially at this age — pre-adolescence through adolescence — this is a time when peer influences are paramount in a young person’s life. If one is ostracized and attacked, that can have devastating consequences — not only physically, but on their emotional health for the rest of their lives.”

The study also found that cyberbullying is perhaps not taken as seriously as other forms of bullying. 40 percent of the non-heterosexual respondents replied that, when they told their parents about what was happening to them, their parents did not believe them, possibly because they did not believe that this form of bullying was a real threat.

Further to that, of those parents that did believe their children, 55 percent felt unable to do anything about such bullying. 57 percent of students felt that their school officials, likewise, would be unable to stop cyberbullying.

The study, the results of which will be released on Monday, March 15, in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, also points out the dark irony of the cyberbullying phenomenon: for many LGBT youths, the Internet is often a way for them to seek out other people like themselves and to explore their own identities after being somewhat ostracized by their peers. Many of the respondents indicated that they did not want to tell their parents about the bullying because they feared that their parents would react by taking away their access to their vital, LGBT positive online communities, thus forcing them to isolate themselves further.

Drawing on this theme, the study points to a need for greater peer support:

The ISU study also proposes strategies for cyberbullying prevention. Eighty percent of the survey’s respondents indicated that their peers should do more to stop it.

“One of the strategies coming out of this study – since respondents expect and want their peers to step in more – is that we should find ways on our campuses to empower young people to speak up and act as allies,” Blumenfeld said. “In bullying circles, it’s empowering the bystander to become the upstander to help eliminate the problem.”

The study also documents the willingness of LGBT and straight ally students to come forward to tell their stories in order to prevent the same thing happening to other LGBT youths, provided, that is, that they felt empowered to do so with the knowledge that these situations would be properly addressed and taken seriously.

The ISU will be carrying out further studies and further analysis on these findings with the hope that they can eventually expand the scope of their survey to include a larger national sample.

Although this is just one study with a relatively small sample, the dangers of cyberbullying were brought into stark focus when, earlier this year, a 15-year-old girl, Phoebe Prince, whom her teachers called “smart and charming,” took her own life, hanging herself because a group of girls at her school had premeditated a sustained campaign of torment and teasing against her through text messaging and online messaging. From True Crime Report:

This wasn’t just any case of high school girls behaving badly toward one another. Phoebe apparently faced an onslaught of bullying via texts, Facebook messages, and in person at the school. Even after her death, the… girls left disparaging messages on a Facebook page created in her memory.

“Apparently the young woman had been subjected to taunting from her classmates, mostly through the Facebook and text messages, but also in person on at least a couple of occasions,” school superintendent Gus Sayer told the Boston Globe.

As this example shows, cyberbullying can have very real, very destructive consequences, and as such should not be underestimated as simple name calling or mistaken as being trivial. As such, here are a few resources surrounding this issue that you may find useful:

Care2 Action:
Support the Safe Schools Improvement Act

Related Care2 Posts:
Cyber Bullying: A Dangerous Trend

Further Reading:
What is Cyberbullying?
The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
Myths and Facts about Cyberbullying

Stop Cyberbullying – Info for Parents
Cyberbullying Research Center

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Wentong.


Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat8 years ago


Nellie K A.
Nellie K Adaba8 years ago

A new trend I've never heard of before.

nita D.
Past Member 8 years ago

Any form of bullying is unacceptable for any reason.

Ricardo C.
Ricardo C8 years ago

Bullying, be it in schools or via the internet is wrong and dangerous and it must be stopped! I'm for total "freedom" (yeah, in quotes) because the good one comes without quotes! Freedom is good and we should strive for it to work for everyone! Some take freedom to extremes and forget about other's rights. Schools should bring students together to fight this bad behaviour, because it causes deep pain and even death! I suggest that schools get the good guys together to defend themselves whenever someone is targeted for bullying, by forming anti-bully squads in schools and confronting these bad guys. Remember there are more good guys than bullies and when good guys stick together, bullies don't have a chance! In regards to bullying via the internet, I suggest that there should be a system, be it in the police dept. or the Justice dept; whereby you can immediately send copy of any email that is threatening you in any way, so that they can monitor anyone that is sending threatening emails. If this could be done, I think that it would be a deterrant to this growing cyber threat.

Sarah D.
Sarah D8 years ago

"There was a movie that came out a few years ago on USA that addressed this issue. I don't remember the name of the movie, but these two girls were best friends until high school"

The name of the movie is "Odd Girl Out."

Connie W.
Connie W8 years ago

"Even after her death, the... girls left disparaging messages on a Facebook page created in her memory."

What the hell is wrong with these girls? Where are the bullies' parents in all of this?
The problem is that some parents don't want to acknowledge that their child is a bully. Some parents even encourage their child to be a bully or even blame the victim. Such a sad world we live in.

Pamela W.
Pamela W.8 years ago

Bullying over the internet does not just happen to children. I
am a "birth parent" who conceived and relinquished a baby
girl when I was 14. I am now 61 and she has found me. She
expressed all of her hate, rage and resentment - and even
her desire to come here and 'beat the ---- out of me' over the
internet in a recent email She had her daughter email the
same things to me. She stalks me and the child I conceived
and birthed later on in life. I feel like I am being raped all
over again by her and she wont stay out of my life. She is
in Tennessee and I am in Washinton State. What can I do?

Elinor Israel
Elinor Israel8 years ago

I am not gay and I cannot imagine how painful it is for children to know that they are homosexual but have no support system. Then to feel as though they can express their feelings via the internet in an attempt to connect with others who may be accepting of them only to end up being bullied. My heart goes out to these children.

I am ashamed of the bigotry that exists in our society.

Elaine Dixon
Elaine Dixon8 years ago

I have had it happen and it isn't fun...

Heather B.
Past Member 8 years ago

Thank you, Steve.