According to Teens and Mobile Phones, a 2010 report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, cell phones are a "new venue for harassment and bullying" for adolescents. For instance, 26 percent of teens who have cell phones claim that someone has harassed them through their devices. Girls are more likely to be targeted at 30 percent, compared with boys at 22 percent. "This trend is more common for those teens whose parents are under 40 and low in educational attainment,"1 the report states, which identifies prank calls, threatening or insulting calls and texts, sexual harassment, and spreading rumors as forms of bullying on cell phones.
Also in the report, teens voiced their concerns and opinions about the issue in written responses. A high school girl expressed the fear that such bullying is especially invasive, as mobile technology can be used to reach someone at any place and any time. "I think it's terrible. You can't escape the hatred. Even when you go home someone can still pick on you," she contends. Additionally, a high school boy pointed out that texting eliminates face-to-face interactions, making it easier for bullies to threaten or tease their victims. "People have bigger mouths through text," he says. Still, not all agree that bullying via cell phones is a serious problem, insisting that it is "not really a big deal."
The role of cell phones in cases of bullying and suicide has been scrutinized in recent years, paticularly following the death of Rebecca Sedwick in September 2013. Over dating a boy, the twelve-year-old middle school student from Lakeland, Florida, was taunted and intimidated by fifteen girls online and through her cell phone for more than a year. To end the bullying, Sedwick's mother removed her from school, deleted her Facebook page, and took away her cell phone. Sedwick then began attending another school, showing improvement until she downloaded new mobile messaging apps. The bullying resumed. "Why are you still alive?" and "Can u die please?" are some of the messages Sedwick's bullies sent before she killed herself. "Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened, and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cell phone applications,"2 maintains Lizette Alvarez, Miami bureau chief for The New York Times.
Numerous experts argue that these new mobile apps exacerbate the extent of bullying. Randy Taran, founder of youth nonprofit Project Happiness, observes that they allow bullies to remain anonymous, encouraging them to be more vicious. "In many apps and websites there is no identification or accountability for who says what. This can and does bring out the worst of human nature,"3 she suggests. Furthermore, Taran proposes that bullies are becoming better at evading attention and punishment at school with the apps. "As teens get older, they are increasingly technologically adept and socially skillful about hiding their identity and intention," she continues. "Often these campaigns of cruelty are covert and unnoticeable by teachers, but loud and clear to both victim and their 'frenemies.'" It is also speculated that parents, including Sedwick's mother, find it nearly impossible to keep tabs on the latest apps used in bullying and monitoring their children's electronic communications. "There's a disconnect between the generations that parents are often in a constant stage of catching up,"4 says Kate Brodock, president of Girl Tech, an organization focusing on girls and digital media. "By the time they catch up, children are the next step ahead."
Nonetheless, other observers do not shift the blame on cell phones and apps in bullying. Ben Crompton, a British technology writer, believes that the causes are rooted in societal norms and individual behavior. "At first glance it may well appear that new technology, like smartphones and social networks, are driving this social change where bullying is rife,"5 Crompton asserts. "However, it is far more probable that technology is shaped by social attitudes towards it, if we as a society believe it is okay for children to have smartphones they will use them as part of their normal communicative behavior." Crompton explains that a teen who is already prone to harassing his or her peers will use apps for this activity. "And if that particular child is insecure, has low self-esteem, etc., then that behavior may well result in bullying," he states. Moreover, some schools even use mobile apps to combat the problem itself. In June 2012, the Judson Independent School District in Texas released an app with a feature that allows students to report bullying and the details of the incident. The previous month, a group of students in New Haven, Connecticut, launched the Back Off Bully app, enabling users to report harassment anonymously through their smartphones, tablets, and computers. "So often, kids hide behind phones to cyberbully and do negative things,"6 says Christine Puglisi, who led development of the Back Off Bully app. "We want them to use phones for a positive use—to start changing the world."
Bullying is just one of the issues raised when cell phones are welcomed on campuses. From creating a distraction in the classroom to improving academic performance to student safety, the devices and their apps polarize educators and administrators. At Issue: Cell Phones in Schools probes these topics and more. The divergent views presented in this anthology represent how cell phones are impacting teens as they adopt mobile technology in their daily lives.
1. Amanda Lenhart et al., Teens and Mobile Phones, April 20, 2010. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Teens-and-Mobile-Phones/Chapter-5/The-cell-phone-has-become-a-new-venue-for-harassment-and-bullying-of-teens.aspx.
2. Lizette Alvarez, “Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies,” New York Times, September 13, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/14/us/suicide-of-girl-after-bullying-raises-worries-on-web-sites.html?_r=0.
3. Randy Taran, “Cyberbullying Apps—Why Are We Allowing Anonymous Cruelty?” Huffington Post, September 18, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/cyberbullying-apps_b_3941599.html.
4. Quoted in NewsChannel 9, “Experts Say New Apps Increase Chances of Cyber Bullying,” October 15, 2013. http://www.9wsyr.com/news/local/story/Experts-say-new-apps-increase-chances-of-cyber/h69npgUNpUGEq-oq6jFgLA.cspx.
5. Ben Crompton, “Comment: Do Mobile Phones Cause Bullying in Schools?” Pocket-lint, November 18, 2010. http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/107082-survey-mobiles-cause-bullying-schools.
6. Quoted in Melissa Bailey, “Back Off, Bully!” New Haven Independent, May 28, 2012. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/back_off_bully.