Half of Detroit-Area School Students Admit to Using Social Media to Bully, Abuse, and Stalk Others

More than half of the middle- and high-schoolers in a Detroit-area study admitted to cyberstalking and cyberbullying. (Photo: Detroit Free Press)
More than half of the middle- and high-schoolers in a Detroit-area study admitted to cyberstalking and cyberbullying.
(Photo: Detroit Free Press)

Armed with cell phones and a dizzying array of social media choices, half of this area’s middle- and high-schoolers in a recent study admitted to social media abuse — from bullying schoolmates to spreading rumors to pressuring others to send sexual texts or pictures.

They also admitted to stalking their partners.

“It begins with the constant texting or the stalking on Facebook. ‘Where are you?’ and ‘Who are you with?'” said researcher Poco Kernsmith, an associate professor of social work at Wayne State University.

What may seem like harmless teen jealousy can spiral into a dangerous relationship if left unchecked, said Kernsmith, whose research has centered on violence in relationships. She led a survey of 1,236 sixth- and ninth-graders at six metro Detroit high schools, a mix of high- moderate- and low-risk schools when measured with crime statistics and poverty levels.

“It becomes ‘I don’t want you to hang out with your friends,’ and ‘I don’t like the way you dress,’ ” she said. “It becomes controlling and isolating.”

Just 37% of the students said their parents monitored their online behavior. It’s a disconnect that — maybe not surprisingly — suggests teens let loose more than their parents know.

Additionally, social media misuse was higher in wealthier districts — very likely the result of more kids owning cellphones and other technology. About 54% of youth in low risk-schools — relatively wealthy schools in low-crime areas — had perpetrated electronic abuse, while 46% of youth in high risk schools had done so.

Taylor Goodwin, 14, of Allen Park, Mich., said she sees it all the time: Relationship changes and stalking that “cause all kinds of drama,” online smack talk that dissolves into personal attacks, and “throwing shade” — a sort of under-the-radar way of insulting and bullying.

“So you don’t tag a person, and you don’t name them, but everyone knows exactly who you’re talking about,” said Goodwin, who recently wrote a paper for her English class at Davidson Middle School on cyberbullying and suicide.

“It’s a loophole to bully someone without (adults) finding out,” she said. “It spreads around the school like wildfire.”

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SOURCE: Robin Erb
Detroit Free Press

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