What makes Johnny post such hateful things?


Were Shakespeare alive today, he might write, “And anonymity doth make cowards of us all.” And Will just might be right. According to the Pew Internet Research Center, one in three teens has experienced some type of cyberbullying. In all fairness, the report does state that in-person bullying is more prevalent than online intimidation.

According to Pew, anonymity and technology provide a near-perfect stage for bullying. Researchers conducted phone interviews with 935 teenagers. Below are some of the responses:

  • Ease of execution: “Just copy and paste whatever somebody says,” a middle school girl explained as she described online bullying tactics.
  • Insulation, as one high school student said, “People think they are a million times stronger because they can hide behind their computer monitor”.
  • A culture of intolerance as a third preteen girl related, “I have this one friend and he’s gay and his account got hacked and someone put all these really homophobic stuff on there and posted like a mass bulletin of like some guy with his head smashed open like run over by a car. It was really gruesome and disgusting”.

Ease of access and anonymity alone can’t change a person’s personality

Before tackling that issue, a quick primer on what happens to a person’s brain the longer he or she stays in cyberspace. A study in  the “UV Journal of Research” provides the following explanation. “The emergence of a virtual world induced by the pervasiveness of social networking sites creates ‘netizens’ or real people interacting in cyberspace where traditional norms and standards of behavior are virtually nonexistent… The virtual world is a world without restraints where everyone exercises unbridled freedom of expression.”

Ease of access and anonymity alone can’t change a person’s personality. In the abstract section of the study, the authors elaborate, “It is claimed that an individual’s engagement with virtual reality… portends a segregation of the superego from the id and ego. In a virtual world, social interactions are not constrained by societal norms and standards so that the tendency is for the id — instincts and drives — to merge with the ego — what is real — and they become indistinguishable.”

A messed up utopia

If Freud was right and we are driven by conflicting impulses, like Oedipus and Electra complexes, it is possible cyberbullying goes much deeper than spreading vicious rumors or posting humiliating photos. It would perhaps follow that within the realm of social media we tap into a strange sphere of equality.

According to the study, “The notions of equality and equity pervade in the virtual world. Here, there are no ranks, authority, power and domination. The virtual world equalizes the rich and the poor; the powerful and the oppressed; the intelligent and the dull. In fact, it is precisely this characteristic of the virtual world which makes it very attractive for most people.”

Sadly, the average cyberbully does not aspire to such egalitarian heights. His or her reason for bullying is generally rooted in low self-esteem, a desire to fit in, a need to dominate or just plain fear. What distinguishes cyberbullying from traditional bullying is the low risk of being caught. No doubt this is due to the fact that most kids who witness cyberbullying fail to report it. According to one website, 95 percent of kids choose to do nothing when they witness cyberbullying. And more than half of the victims of cyberbullying fail to tell their parents.

Not my kid

Children with mental health disorders are three times more likely to bully than kids without such diagnoses. Bullies are more likely to attempt suicide than non-bullies. Bullies do poorly in school, are at greater risk for substance abuse, more often than not come from violent homes and generally just don’t fit in. Kids who bully, either in the real or virtual world, need treatment just as much as their victims. Counselors recommend treating bullies much the same as treating their victims: one-on-one sessions to unearth what happened and why.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann is a licensed therapist who specializes in working with adolescents. Her book, “The Bullying Workbook for Teens,” incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — CBT — techniques for helping teens who have been bullied. She says, “CBT is a great approach for with working with teens. It is problem/solution focused and in comparison to other therapeutic approaches, it’s short in duration. Plus, studies show CBT is very effective in reducing symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in teens.  CBT will tackle destructive thinking patterns, confront distortions, break down the wall of self-doubt and help the victim regain confidence and control of his/her life.”

What parents can do

The National Crime Prevention Council has some direct advice for parents:

  • Keep your home computer in a busy area of your house.
  • Set up email and chat accounts with your children and make sure you know their screen names and passwords and they don’t include any personal information in their online profiles.
  • Regularly go over their instant messenger “buddy list” with them, being sure to ask who each person is and how your children know him or her.
  • Discuss cyberbullying with your children and ask if they have ever experienced it or seen it happen to someone.
  • Emphasize that you won’t take away their computer privileges if you discover your child is being cyberbullied — this is the main reason kids don’t tell adults.

White River Academy is a residential boarding school located at the rim of the monumental Great Basin in Delta, Utah. White River focuses on treating young men with addiction and mental health disorders. We offer regimented, competitive and innovative curriculum to set your son up for success in whichever path he chooses hereafter. We incorporate CBT among other therapies as we deal with each student’s particular issues.

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