I first entered a chat room when I was about 11 or 12 years old. It was about the same time that I started middle school, and things people said anonymously online were never as hurtful as the things my preteen classmates would say to my face. Back in the early 2000s, chatting online was an escape from reality. Your whole school wasn’t online with you. You didn’t even need to post a picture of yourself. And when people online started being rude, you could easily leave because there was no tie between your online life and your offline life.
But that’s not the case anymore.
With kids’ online and offline lives becoming one, it appears that harassment could happen every day, and all day. There is no logging off.
As I scroll through my Facebook timeline, I continue to read and listen to unfortunate stories of cyberbullying. Stories of young boys and girls being continuously harassed via social media, text messages and apps. With all the sensational reporting on cyberbullying, it’s easy to believe that today bullies lurk online instead of in the school hallways.
But how true is that? At Youth Radio, where I work, we decided to conduct a small online poll to find out.
We asked 60 young people, ages 14 to 24, from the Bay Area and around California about their experiences. What we found was surprising.
Of those polled, more said they had been bullied offline than online. And that difference was even more pronounced among the older kids. For example, 53 percent of those 16-year-olds we polled said they had been physically bullied, but only 20 percent said they had been cyberbullied.
The issue, however, isn’t whether more students are harassed online than offline. It’s that the situation around student-to-student bullying is still serious.
In the national discussions around bullying, there’s a lot of talk about the responsibility of schools and parents, and the need for new laws. But in a statewide chat we hosted with students, they had mixed reactions to the idea of depending solely on these kinds of authorities. Some highlighted the importance of standing up for themselves.
This idea really resonates with me. The last time I remember being bullied, I was in the 10th grade. One kid was teasing me every day in class. No one thought it was that big a deal. My teacher didn’t do much about it. But one day, the kid started throwing crayons at me. That was it. After talking to my parents, I decided to write an e-mail to my school counselor and cc my teacher. It worked. We had a meeting. I might have lost a so-called friend, but he left me alone after that.
I would encourage other young people to try something similar. Go above your teacher. Log off. Block “friends” on Facebook. I can’t promise it will work, but it feels good to stand up for yourself.
Asha Richardson, 22, is the co-founder of the app lab at Youth Radio.