(PIX11) — “You must be the ugliest player at Manchester Regional High School, you go around flirting with everything with a blank and a blank,” Timothy Stout read.
Stout received multiple messages last year from an anonymous Instagram account called “MRHSFAKES_.”
“You are in fact a player, you are in fact ugly, you are in fact annoying as blank, so please kill yourself and have a nice day,” Stout continued.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I cried. I honestly did.”
Kids who are victims of cyberbullying are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“When they get negative comments, it’s really a bad thing because it’s something they revisit over and over again,” Dr. Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist, said. “So it has much more of an impact.”
Stout said his bullying made him feel like “everybody” was against him.
A study conducted by the American Journal Psychiatry, released last month, shows that a person who is bullied, whether online or in person, can have greater psychological distress, anxiety and depression that can last until they are in their 50s.
“Actually what we find is that most young people have no clue of the details of how these technologies work,” said Dr. danah boyd, who prefers her name be written in all lower-case letters.
boyd is a social media scholar and a researcher at Microsoft. She said that while many kids are tech savvy, most of them don’t understand what they’re actually doing.
“You have teens posting things that they know are fabrications just because it’s funny,” boyd said.
Which is one reason why websites and apps prohibit children under the age of 13 from using their products. Every site varies on its age limit but the restrictions stem from the Federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
“The point of these laws is to help protect children,” said Pedram Tabibi, a social media attorney and associate at Meltzer Lippe. “Even the laws themselves won’t necessarily go far enough because if the children are exposed to harmful conduct, then that’s something else entirely.”
PIX11 News brought in a dozen tweens and teens from across New York and New Jersey to talk about what they’ve been exposed to online.
“I see people that they post really inappropriate stuff like their body,” 11-year-old Daphne said.
Jevaughn, 15, added that he sees peers “post picture[s] of them trying to kill themselves and then taking pills.”
PIX11 also brought in their parents.
“Surprised that your kids have seen that?” we asked them.
“Yeah, very, this is the first time I’ve heard of it. I haven’t heard of it yet,” one parent responded.
“I think it happened when we were younger,” another parent, Denise Filien, said. “But we didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have access to it so readily”
A week ago, Snapchat admitted that photos sent using the app don’t actually disappear into thin air after all. With all the new apps, it’s almost impossible for parents to keep up.
It takes “a community. There’s a village monitoring what she’s doing online,” Filien said.
boyd said some of the tension comes from kids’ becoming independent.
“And so we forget that that transition is natural, that it’s important that it’s a critical part of growing up,” she said.
But just important is learning digital responsibility.
“We actually put software and hardware in the hands of students at a very young age,” Daniel Feigin said. “We let them understand what a powerful tool it is.”
Daniel Feigin is the Upper Division Director at the Trevor Day School on the Upper West Side. It was one of the first schools in the country to implement a laptop program.
“We have a class called Ethical Foundations and that starts in 4th grade and continues on all the way until ninth [grade],” Alex Heine, a student at Trevor Day School. “One of the things [the class] covers is technology and the internet and how to be responsible on the Internet.”
Secret Second Lives, Part 1: The dark side of teens online
According to a 2012 McAfee study, 74 percent of parents say they cannot keep up with what their kids are doing online.
“The best way that parents can get a better understanding as to what they’re kids are doing is by being on it themselves,” Dr. Gardere said.
“As a parent one of the most difficult things is trying to figure out a support network for your child that’s not just you,” boyd explained. “The thing is that they have other trusted adults in their world that they can turn to, that can be so valuable.”
Because without that support network, the consequences could be tragic.
Remember Timothy Stout? He had support.
“I stayed happy, I put a smile on my face and I moved on,” Stout said.
For resources on what to do if you or your child is being bullied, click here.
This report was produced by PIX11’s Kim Pestalozzi.