It used to be all you had to fear from a bully was a black eye, a fat lip and some bruises. The physical pain would diminish over time, as would the mental scars if you stood up for yourself or one of your friends.
It’s not that simple anymore.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” may have been an appropriate adage 100, 50 or even 20 years ago, but in the Internet age, threats, insults and cruel jokes never completely disappear. They’re always out there for someone to find — and for someone to add to.
Most of the damage happens to schoolchildren. The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that, nationwide, 20 percent of ninth- through 12th-graders have been bullied. The 2008-2009 School Crime Supplement by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that, nationwide, 28 percent of sixth- through 12th-graders have been bullied.
Those numbers probably are low. Many cases of bullying are never reported.
Unlike the traditional playground bully, there’s almost no escaping a cyberbully. That person’s always there, lurking in the shadows of the Web, ready pounce on anyone perceived as being weaker or different.
Often those bullies are anonymous, writing things they would never say face to face. Bullies feed off negative comments and gang up on whoever they decide should be their target of the day. The words a cyberbully uses can be more painful than any “sticks and stones” and can have tragic outcomes.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young 10- to 24-year-olds, according to the CDC. About 4,600 young people a year kill themselves. For every suicide, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide, according to studies by Yale University.
Parents still play the most important role in whether their children are a victim or a perpetrator. They need to teach their children how to responsibly use social media. There’s so much out there that it’s difficult for most parents to keep track. They may know about Facebook and Twitter, but what about ask.fm, Voxer, Kik and Reddit?
Parents also need to set a good example. The Golden Rule — treat others as you would want to be treated — applies.