Advocate stresses ways to prevent teenage cyberbullying and digital dating abuseCyberbullying is nothing new for teens, but some parents might be surprised just how common it really is.
By: Tom Olsen, Duluth Budgeteer News
Cyberbullying is nothing new for teens, but some parents might be surprised just how common it really is.
Roughly one-third of teens experience cyberbullying and about one in four is victim to an emerging form of bullying known as “digital dating abuse,” according to Maude Dornfeld, community education director at Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center in Duluth. (Dornfeld will begin a job as executive director of Life House on March 11. Life House hosts programs serving homeless and at-risk youth in Duluth and surrounding communities.)
“They don’t want to tell their parents because they’re afraid their parents will take their technology away,” Dornfeld said. “Pre-teens are more likely to talk to their parents, but we’re not seeing many older teens reporting cyberbullying and digital dating abuse.”
Survey estimates show that only about one in 10 teens experiencing cyberbullying or digital dating abuse tells a parent.
While many parents and teens are keenly aware of the risks posed by anonymous online predators, thanks to media such as Dateline NBC’s investigative television program “To Catch a Predator,” abuse from classmates and dating partners is something that not as many parents and teens understand, Dornfeld said.
“Studies have shown that while there are online predators, they’re relatively rare, and that danger is on the decline as kids get to be more tech-savvy,” she said. “But the risk from someone they do know is on the rise. But stats about how common it is are hard to come by, because no study measures it in the same way.”
Cyberbullying, as its name suggests, is the use of technology as a means of harming others, particularly people the attacker personally knows. It typically takes place in “public” settings on the Internet, such as a Facebook wall.
Digital dating abuse, on the other hand, is a relatively new term that pertains to romantic partners. This type of abuse can involve one partner demeaning or attempting to control the other, often to the point of stalking. Digital dating abuse normally takes place in more private settings, such as emails or text messages.
While cyberbullying often follows physical bullying, digital dating abuse can actually be a precursor for physical abuse, Dornfeld said.
“Digital dating abuse is tricky because, unlike cyberbullying, you have two kids involved in a relationship, who are attracted to each other and want to be together,” she said. “A lot of the time
cyberbullying occurs in front of an audience, a virtual audience, but digital dating abuse is hidden from view. There aren’t going to be as many
bystanders or people to intervene.”
Because parents are often not as technologically adept as their children, and because teens are often reluctant to tell their parents about cyberbullying and digital dating abuse experiences, much attention has been focused on educating parents and caregivers about the risks.
Many schools have started making cyberbullying awareness part of their curricula, but educators like Dornfeld are also banking on parents to have conversations with their children to prevent cyberbullying.
Numerous classes and workshops have been hosted in the Twin Ports, and another opportunity is coming up this month. Dornfeld will be presenting a workshop called “Frenemies: Helping Teens Deal with Cyber Bullying and Digital Dating Abuse.” The program will be held from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Tuesday at the Amberwing mental health facility.
The Miller-Dwan Foundation, which developed and owns Amberwing, is co-sponsoring the workshop with the Verizon Foundation, and has been involved in previous efforts to raise awareness of cyber-bullying.
Pat Burns, president of the Miller-Dwan Foundation, said it’s an important effort related to the foundation’s commitment to mental health for children and teens in the community.
“It’s just as effective as schoolyard bullying and has a similar impact,” she said. “Kids are trying to figure out who they are, developing a sense of self. There’s such fragility in teen years, so much change going on in their bodies and brains. Bullying can just have a really long lasting impact on how they think about themselves and how they interact with world.”
Media reports have detailed some of the more serious impacts of cyberbullying, including several high-profile cases that involved teens committing suicide, although the consequences of cyberbullying are not typically that severe.
“If you look at the national stories of kids who are bullied and then commit suicide, things seem so intense for them at the [time], like it’s going to be like that for the rest of their life,” Burns said. “They make choices that they might not make with an adult mind. There are a lot of fragile egos when you’re dealing with teens.”
WHO: Parents, caregivers and professionals who work with teens
WHAT: Frenemies: Helping Teens Deal with Cyber Bullying and Digital Dating Abuse
WHEN: Tuesday, March 15. Social hour 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by presentation 6:30 to 8 p.m.
WHERE: Amberwing, 615 Pecan Ave.
WHY: To provide advice for the prevention of
cyberbullying and digital dating abuse
HOW: Register by calling the Miller-Dwan Foundation at (218)786-5829 or visit mdfoundation.org. Tickets are $15; seating is limited.