Poll shows more young people are being bullied online

By Vince Horiuchi | The Salt Lake Tribune | First published Sep 27 2011 05:24PM | Updated Sep 28, 2011 07:13AM

 

More than half of teens and young adults surveyed in a new national study say they have been the victim of cyberbullying, a still new and misunderstood problem because the technology that propagates it is always changing.

The Associated Press-MTV poll of youths in their teens and early 20s finds that most of them — 56 percent — have been the target of some type of online taunting, harassment or bullying, a slight increase over just two years ago. A third say they’ve been involved in “sexting,” the sharing of nude photos or videos of sexual activity. Among those in a relationship, 4 out of 10 say their partners have used computers or cellphones to abuse or control them.

Three-fourths of the young people said they consider these darker aspects of the online world, sometimes broadly called “digital abuse,” a serious problem.

In Utah, the only known statistics regarding the prevalence of cyberbullying come from the Utah Department of Human Services’ Student Health And Risk Prevention Survey (SHARP), which asks only one question about cyberbullying among many concerning student health and prevention issues: “How often have you been threatened or harassed over the Internet, by email or by someone using a cellphone?”

In the 2011 survey, 19 percent of 49,707 elementary and middle-school students from 39 of the state’s school districts said they were harassed at least once, a slight drop from 2009. However, 2.7 percent said they were harassed online six or more times.

All of Utah’s school districts have a policy in place to deal with cyberbullying. Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed a law that includes cyberbullying in Utah’s anti-bullying and hazing statute and requires that all school districts have an anti-cyberbullying policy. Utah Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said he was compelled to introduce the legislation after the story of a rural Sanpete County boy who killed himself more than a year ago because he was the victim of cyberbullying.

“I was contacted by a number of people who just said that our kids have been involved in this and that we need something like this to get involved,” Okerlund said. “One lady said she moved her kid out of school.”

Conduct that rises to the point of bullying is hard to define, but the AP-MTV poll of youths ages 14 to 24 showed plenty of rotten behavior online and a perception that it’s increasing. The share of young people who frequently see people being mean to each other on social networking sites jumped to 55 percent from 45 percent in 2009.

That may be partly because young people are spending more time than ever communicating electronically: 7 in 10 had logged into a social networking site in the previous week, and 8 in 10 had texted a friend.

The Jordan School District keeps track of cyberbullying cases, “but the difficulty you’re finding is a lot of the cyberbullying is done on social networks, and we in the school system are not aware of it until it impacts the school system,” said Brett Wilson, program specialist for the district’s student intervention services. But at Jordan District schools, prevention specialists visit teachers and administrators to give lessons on identifying cyberbullying problems.

Once a year, middle and high school teachers in the Salt Lake City School District will discuss the dangers of cyberbullying with their students, which can include harassment through social networks — like Facebook — email and texting, said Jan Adams, the district’s safe school specialist.

“It’s a very serious issue, and we need to continue to educate, educate, educate — the parents, the kids and the educators,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

vince@sltrib.com