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Teen suicide and cyberbullying

Cyberbullying or electronic bullying is a unique phenomenon that is different from the traditional playground bullying that occurred when I was a child. Rather, it is bullying through technology: email, instant messaging, chat rooms, websites, gaming sites, text messages or images sent. Cyberbullying has similarities to traditional bullying behaviours—text messaging is the ‘note-passing’ of the current day—however, the technology is here to stay and is a staple in the lives of teens.

The cyberbullying epidemic has the global attention of countries and their governments. In fact, the new breed of bullies is narcissistic and they treat the internet as their own personal stage, with an audience of thousands. Narcissists’ known aggressive reactions when combined with the anonymity of the internet, can provide a forum to become cyberbullies. For example, a narcissist who has received negative feedback at work or school is more likely than a non-narcissist to react with aggressive online behaviour, and act antagonistically toward the person who provoked him, or even towards an innocent co-worker or classmate, in a forum which will allow his aggression to be anonymous.

“Trolls” on social media are an increasing phenomenon. Like their mythological counterparts, internet trolls are nasty creatures who are attention-seekers; their goal is to wreak online havoc for the purpose of ‘fun’. Internet trolls thrive on weakness, naiveté either real or imagined, and also feed from the emotional reactions of their victims by insulting, upsetting, shocking and provoking users. Trolls and their kind have a code of irresponsibility, and aside from disrupting online communities, have been known to hack into social media profiles and perform pranks.

An example of this is when a troll hacked a MySpace memorial page of a teen who had committed suicide and replaced the boy’s face with the face of a zombie, then posted the victim’s face onto hard-core porn scenes, made videos re-enacting the boy’s death and made prank phone calls to the boy’s parents with greetings such as, “Hi, this is Mitchell, I’m at the cemetery”. This online behaviour probably wouldn’t happen if the perpetrators had to deliver their messages in person – evidence again of the ways in which social media is enabling disturbing behaviour in its users. The technology reduces any social barriers and this behaviour, under the guise of fun, exists only under the conditions of distance and anonymity.

It is my contention that teens, keen to develop their self-identity and self-esteem, are more likely to tolerate online behaviours which may otherwise be considered unacceptable offline. Teens are less likely to tell their parents or caregivers of such bullying and as such the cyberbullying is more likely to continue. Disturbingly, such behaviour, often under the mantra of “It was just a joke”, is the cause of an increase in teen suicide.

Bullying and cyberbullying can profoundly effect a young person’s health and are major risk factors for suicide. Suicide is ranked among the top ten causes of death in Western countries. Australia has one of the highest rates of suicide among adolescents in developed countries and it is one of the leading causes of death among Australian teens, second only to motor vehicle accidents (Centre for Adolescent Health 2013). Suicide accounts for 25% of all male and 17% of all female deaths in the 15-25 age range. Sadly, the suicidality of teens who complete suicide is rarely recognised by professionals and therefore, many young people do not receive assistance that may prevent their deaths.

Recent research has linked bullying to suicide.

Many young people admit they have learned of a peer’s suicidal thoughts or behaviours online, and it becomes clear that monitoring internet communication is a facet of suicide prevention and intervention.

Education of the risk factors, triggering conditions and warning signs can help identify suicide risk in teens. Children and teens are particularly vulnerable to suicide because of their underdeveloped coping skills, lack of experience and perspective, and high levels of stress and emotions. As such, a collaborative suicide prevention and intervention program is necessary to reduce the loss of life in teens – and we need to be nicer to each other.

Want more information?  Dr Maguire’s book Selfies, sexting, suicide and savagery: Welcome to the era of narcissism  will be released at the end on 2016.  You can pre-order by emailing info@nowgeneration.com.au.  Want a Now Generation consultant to speak at your conference, school, organisational masterclass?  Contact Lynette on info@nowgeneration.com.au