September 27, 2011

Online Abuse Becoming Worse, Say Teens and 20-Somethings


If you are the parent of a teenager or a young person in his or her 20s, this will be an uncomfortable – but necessary – read for you.

A new poll of young people conducted by the Associated Press (News - Alert) in conjunction with MTV has found that more than half – 56 percent – of respondents said they have at one time been the target of online taunting, harassment or bullying. This number shows a small increase over numbers from the same poll conducted two years ago. 


Even more skin-crawl-worthy is the fact that fully one-third of young people report that have been “involved” in sexting, an umbrella term that can encompass sharing nude or lewd photos online, and can even involve using wireless technology to find sexual partners. Forty percent of teens or young people in a relationship reported that their partners have used computers or cellphones to abuse or control them.

While about three quarters of young people polled said they consider this kind of online behavior or “digital abuse” a serious problem and the same percentage say that “people do or say things online that they wouldn’t do or say face to face,” other results from the study would appear to show, in some cases, that the respondents themselves are part of the problem. 

When asked why people engage in bullying and name calling that includes using racist, sexist and homophobic slurs, more than half of the young people interviewed – 57 percent – believe it’s because “people are trying to be funny.” Only half as many believe it’s because “people really hold those views.” Young people’s views on whether the behavior was “funny” changed radically when the abusive language was directed at themselves, however.

While the Internet didn’t create bad human behavior, it has a way of exacerbating it. The anonymity and remoteness of the Internet – it’s easy to hide behind a pseudonym or a false identity – allows people to let rip with behavior and language they would never think of engaging in if their identities were known.

And, unlike face-to-face encounters, the Internet has a way of disseminating and preserving ugly behavior or embarrassing photos forever.

Been putting off that talk with your pre-teen or teenager about online safety? Don’t.



Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell