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Protecting and Empowering Kids in the

Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and
Social Media
Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP
Published by the American Academy of Pediatrics
141 Northwest Point Blvd, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007-1098
Fax: 847/434/8000

Cover design by Wild Onion Design, Inc.

Back cover photo by David Fox, Photographer
Book design by Linda Diamond

CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social
Media was created by Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2010903969

ISBN: 978-1-58110-452-3

The recommendations in this publication do not indicate an exclusive course of treatment or

serve as a standard of medical care. Variations, taking into account individual circumstances,
may be appropriate.

Statements and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the
American Academy of Pediatrics.

Products are mentioned for informational purposes only. Inclusion in this publication does
not imply endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The American Academy of
Pediatrics is not responsible for the content of the resources mentioned in this publication.
Web site addresses are as current as possible, but may change at any time.

Every effort is made to keep CyberSafe consistent with the most recent advice
and information possible.

Copyright © 2011 Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior permission from the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America.
Chapter 20: The Risks of New Media Culture (pp. 234-237)


Experiencing bullying is challenging and upsetting. It’s one of those

situations that leaves a permanent mark on a person’s inner fabric and
can forever alter the path a person takes, depending on how the situation
is handled.

It’s no surprise that as more of life has become digital and online, bullies
have gone there too. The problem with online bullies is that they are
faceless and often harder to identify and stop than bullies in the off-line
realm. The effect, though, is no less significant, especially on children. In
fact, online bullying—cyberbullying—is the most common negative situation
that can happen in the online space to any of our kids.

What makes cyberbullying so challenging is that kids don’t report it to

adults and don’t want to rat out their friends. To add insult to injury,
schools uniformly don’t have great strategies for handling it.

The Cyberbullying Research Center released a study in 2009, Bullying

Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying, for
which 2,000 middle school students (grades 6–9) were surveyed from a
large US school district. One-third of students admitted to posting something
that was defined as bullying behavior toward another in the 30 days
preceding the survey. While only 10% of students admitted to being truly
cyberbullied, up to 43% of middle schoolers reported an incident that likely
was cyberbullying given the description. This points to how difficult it is
to classify the situation or define it in people’s minds.

In response to being bullied, 25% of kids blocked the bully, 22% logged off,
10% changed their screen name or e-mail, and 10% did nothing. Fifty-four
percent of kids reported telling a friend about the incident, 41% mom or
dad, and 29.7% a teacher. Twenty-six percent of victims were bullied by
someone they knew from school, 21% were bullied by a friend, and 20%
an ―exfriend.‖4

Similar statistics have been found by other groups. I-SAFE surveyed 1,500
kids in grades 4 through 8 in the 2003–2004 school year and found that
43% of kids reported being cyberbullied, with 1 in 4 having had it happen
more than once. Thirty-five percent of the kids surveyed reported being
threatened online, with 1 in 5 having that happen more than once. Fiftyeight
percent reported others saying mean or hurtful things to them online,
with 1 in 3 having that happen more than once. In this survey, 58% of the
kids did not tell an adult.5

A cyberbullying study from Samuel C. McQuade III, PhD, at Rochester

Institute of Technology was equally alarming. It showed that cyberbullying
begins as early as second grade and peaks in middle school, which is when
issues such as sexting begin. Dr McQuade’s data show a clear dose and
response with online time and the likelihood that some sort of cyber-abuse
will occur. In other words, the more time our kids spend online, the more
likely they will cyber-abuse or be cyber-abused by another kid.
What’s even more intriguing about Dr McQuade’s data are the many
forms of cyber-abuse he was able to define with his study.6

• Academic dishonesty
• Cyberbullying
• Acquiring passwords
• Pirating digital files such as music, movies, and software
• Lying about age or identity
• Use of a credit card to commit fraud
• Posting or sending ―indiscreet or nude photos‖
• Sending unwanted sexual texts or solicitations to others

Pew Internet’s 2007 ―Cyberbullying‖ report teased out more characteristics

of the cyberbullying experience. The data showed that the teens who used
social networking sites and created more content online were bullied more.
The most common type of cyberbullying reported was private communication
becoming public, followed by the spreading of online rumors. Teens
reported that off-line conversations could easily be rebroadcast online and
turned into harassment. Others reported what they called the ―e-thug,‖
where kids feel invincible and act in a way they wouldn’t online and
become incredibly mean. Intolerance and ignorance in how to treat others
was also mentioned as contributing factors to cyberbullying situations.7

How do you know if a child is being bullied? It can be challenging to figure

out. Look for subtle signs in behavior—not wanting to go to school or an
activity; becoming upset after using the computer or cell phone; seeming
unusually sad, withdrawn, or moody; and avoiding questions from you
about what’s happening. Kids who bully may have similar signs, but you
may notice unusual computer activity such as switching screens when
you walk in or multiple log-ins that you don’t recognize.8

As with all childhood changes from normative behavior, anything that’s

extreme and interfering with home, school, and friends warrants further
investigation. Call the school to see if grades are slipping, and call your
pediatrician to arrange an evaluation including a discussion of whether
it would be appropriate to obtain psychologic input.

Because the numbers are so high, and climbing, this is a situation we all
need to be aware of. Bullying expert and psychologist Joel Haber, PhD,
notes that bullying is on the rise due to technologic changes in our culture.
Dr Haber feels as other experts do that it’s the accessibility coupled with
technology that is part of the issue. The indirect nature of the Internet
allows even good kids to be mean because of the faceless power that the
screen builds in. Dr Haber notes that ―it’s easier to have fun at someone
else’s expense‖ and that being online removes the empathy that face-toface
contact creates.

Ross Ellis, founder and CEO, Love Our Children USA, a national nonprofit
dedicated to stopping all violence against children, including bullying,
agrees: ―Cyberbullying is huge.‖ E-mails and calls she receives from families
confirm the statistics, and she’s learned about cyberbullying by instant
message (IM), e-mail, and texting. Her best advice to parents is to take all
threats any child informs parents of seriously: ―You don’t know the hatred
of the bully.‖ She is so right about that. It is very important to evaluate all
threats a child informs you of to determine the level of intensity and how
much danger your child may be in.

Ross’s advice is to save all e-mails, IMs, and texts. Try to talk to the other
parents and determine what may have transpired. Talk to the schools,
although be prepared for the schools not wanting to get involved. If the
situation seems to place your child in serious danger with a significant
threat, or the other parent will not help you, call the police.

Studies show that the child being bullied often knows the bully. The police
can track the IP address to find the bully and keep your child safe, which is
the ultimate goal. Even if your child claims to know the bully, knowing for
sure by tracking the IP is the best insurance policy, as there have been cases
of mistaken identity in the online world with people using other people’s
computers and cell phones to send harmful messages and bully.

―If a child says he or she was bullied, take it seriously,‖ Ross told me.
―That’s a form of violence against a child. It must be taken seriously and
the child needs help to look into it and the tools to work it out. Adults
must listen.‖

Any child online is at risk for being bullied. Our off-line senses for detecting
that something is off with our child will help us pick up that something
may have occurred and questions should be asked. And monitoring programs
that help you uncover situations that your child may not know how
to talk to you about can help facilitate conversations that kids find very difficult
to bring up to any adult, including parents. I cover the full array of
products available today in Chapter 18.

It’s important to keep an open mind and listen without overreacting if

your child comes to you with hard-to-hear information. And be on the lookout.

1. Do they have something like myspace and facebook for tweens? Yahoo! Answers
Web site. Available at:
652AAY3RD4. Accessed March 12, 2010
2. Enhancing Child Safety & Online Technologies: Final Report of the Internet Safety
Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of
States Attorneys General of the United States. Berkman Center for Internet and
Society at Harvard University Web site. Available at:
sites/ Published December 31,
2008. Accessed March 12, 2010
3. Wolak J, Finkelhor D, Mitchell K. 1 in 7 youth: the statistics about online sexual
solicitation. Crimes Against Children Research Center Web site. Available at: Published
December 2007. Accessed March 12, 2010
4. Hinduja S, Patchin JW. Research: downloadable data images. Cyberbullying
Research Center Web site. Available at:
Published 2009. Accessed March 12, 2010
5. Cyber bullying: statistics and tips. I-SAFE Web site. Available at: http://www.isafe.
org/channels/sub.php?ch=op&sub_id=media_cyber_bullying. Accessed March 12,
6. McQuade SC. Survey of Internet and At-risk Behaviors Undertaken by School
Districts of Monroe County New York: May 2007 to June 2008: October 2007 to
January 2008: Report of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Cyber Safety and
Ethics Initiative Web site. Available at:
Survey%20Final%20Report.pdf. Published June 18, 2008. Accessed March 12, 2010
7. Lenhart A. Cyberbullying. Pew Internet and American Life Project Web site.
Available at:
Published June 27, 2007. Accessed March 12, 2010
8. Hinduja S, Patchin JW. Cyberbullying warning signs: red flags that your child is
involved in cyberbullying. Cyberbullying Research Center Web site. Available at: Accessed March 12,

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