WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sarah Ball was a 15-year-old high school sophomore at Hernando High School in Brooksville, Fla., when a friend posted on Facebook: “I hate Sarah Ball, and I don’t care who knows.”
Then there was the Facebook group “Hernando Haters” asking to rate her attractiveness, plus an anonymous email calling her a “waste of space.” And this text arrived on her 16th birthday: “Wow, you’re still alive? Impressive. Well happy birthday anyway.”
It wasn’t until Sarah’s mom, who had access to her daughter’s online passwords, saw the messages that the girl told her everything.
More young people are reaching out to family members after being harassed or taunted online, and it’s helping. A poll released Thursday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV found incidents of “digital abuse” are still prevalent but declining somewhat. It found a growing awareness among teenagers and young adults about harm from online meanness and cyberbullying, as well as a slight increase among those willing to tell a parent or sibling.
“It was actually quite embarrassing, to be honest,” remembers Ball, now an 18-year-old college freshman. But “really, truly, if it wasn’t for my parents, I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today.”
The survey’s findings come a week after two Florida girls, ages 12 and 14, were arrested on felony charges for allegedly bullying online a 12-year-old girl who later killed herself by jumping off a tower at an abandoned concrete plant.
The AP-NORC/MTV poll found that some 49 percent of young people ages 14 through 24 in the U.S. said they have had at least one brush with some kind of electronic harassment, down from about 56 percent in 2011. Of those who have encountered an incident, 34 percent went to a parent, compared with 27 percent just two years ago. And 18 percent — up from 12 percent in 2011 — asked a brother or sister for help.