The online bully: less prevalent in US than many other places in world

A survey of children and teens in 25 countries found 24 percent say they've engaged in behaviors online that are often considered to be bullying. For the US, the figure was 13 percent. 

Mel Evans/AP/File
In this May 30 photo, Dharun Ravi (r.) sits with his attorney Joseph Benedict during a hearing in New Brunswick, N.J. Ravi, the former Rutgers University student convicted of using his webcam to spy on his roomate, was released from jail on June 19.

American students don’t always stack up well in global comparisons, but a new survey suggests they’re ahead of many of their peers worldwide in learning about online bullying in school – and refraining from it.

Thirteen percent of children and teens surveyed in the United States said they’d engaged in behaviors online that are often considered to be bullying – such as meanness, teasing, and unfriendly treatment – compared with 24 percent around the globe; 29 percent have been the target of these behaviors, compared with 37 percent globally; and 52 percent in the US say their school provides education about online bullying, compared with 37 percent globally.

Microsoft commissioned the Global Youth Online Behavior Survey and received responses from more than 7,600 students ages 8 to 17 in 25 countries. It released the data this week, along with online tools to help kids and parents talk about online bullying.

More than half the students worldwide – 54 percent – say they are worried about online bullying, and 50 percent say their parents talk with them about online risks. But only 30 percent of parents ask their children if they’ve been bullied online, the students report.

Students around the globe say they experience far more bullying in person than they do online, but concerns have been growing that it can sometimes be more hurtful to bully someone using technology – because information spreads more rapidly and remains visible for so long, or because attacks can be made anonymously and at all hours, day or night. Much of the online bullying has been happening without parents’ awareness or knowledge about how best to intervene.

“Parents [and teachers] think they are talking to kids, but kids don’t feel like anyone’s talking to them…; they feel like they’re out there on their own,” says Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety, an online safety group in Fort Lee, N.J.

Students often won’t tell their parents if they’ve been victimized online, Ms. Aftab says, partly out of concern that parents will overreact by taking away computer privileges or spying on them. But cyberbullying continues to get worse, she says. “At some point we’ve got to wake up government, we’ve got to wake up [the technology] industry, and we’ve got to wake up parents and say, ‘Let’s put our heads together … and fix it.' ”

Some high-profile cases have brought cyberbullying into sharp focus in the United States. Just this week, Tyler Clementi’s family spoke on television about their son viewing his Rutgers roommate’s Twitter feed – bragging about catching Tyler on his webcam in a moment of intimacy with another man – just before he killed himself in the fall of 2010.

The family has since set up a foundation designed in part to educate people about cyberbullying. 

Among the educational resources Microsoft has developed is a Stand Up to Bullying Quiz. It takes adults through a number of scenarios and then responds with information about how to talk to teens about negative behaviors online. It points out, for instance, that “teens often use the term ‘drama’ to minimize serious situations.”

The Microsoft global survey found that students are more likely to be bullied online if they spend more than 10 hours per week on the Internet (46 percent in the US versus 29 percent globally). Girls are more likely than boys to be bullied online (55 percent versus 24 percent).

China’s youths report the highest rate of online bullying, with 70 percent saying they’ve experienced it and 58 percent admitting to doing it. The country also has a high level of education about the issue – with 55 percent of schools teaching about it.

Aftab suggests that China, as well as Singapore, may have high rates of online bullying because the children have a lot of access to computers but very little opportunity, culturally, for direct confrontation.

The lowest rate of online bullying is in the United Arab Emirates, with just 7 percent of children and teens experiencing it and 5 percent doing it. Still, 31 percent say they are concerned about it.

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