Cyberbullying: Teen girls are not necessarily mean girls

Teachers are cyberbullied

Over the last year, I have read a lot of horror stories involving cyberbullying. It seems that in most of the stories I read, the perpetrators and the victims of these Internet crimes are teen girls. They act like stereotypical mean girls: they leave each other nasty messages, they spread vicious rumors, they call each other crude names.

While the idea of teen girls cyberbullying each other is indeed problematic, it's not--to me, at least--super surprising. Stories of mean teen girls have been around for years. And for years, these stories have been captured on the big screen, in movies like Carrie, Heathers, and, well, Mean Girls. While social networks don't create these mean girls, they do facilitate their bullying, offering an entirely new arena for it. Facebook, to these mean girls, is like an online burn book.

It's easy, then, to imagine Regina George sadistically using this burn book to make fun of her peers. And it's easy to imagine the victim of her cruelty being the unfortunate teen girl who made out with a hot dog. What is not easy to imagine is that the Regina George in this scenario is actually an adult--and that the victim is an adult, as well. But, surprise: adults are cyberbullies, too.

According to a recent Plymouth University study, 35% of teachers report that they have been subjected to online abuse. And even more surprising is that 26% of this abuse is carried out by parents.

Cyberbullying is awful in any form, but adults cyberbullying other adults? That is truly shameful. And how does this abuse take shape? Facebook groups have been set up to attack teachers. YouTube videos of teachers have been posted. Abusive comments have been submitted to the site ratemyteachers.com. In the words of one of the teachers surveyed, "I eventually had a breakdown in the summer holiday needing an emergency doctor to be called out -- as I had become suicidal."

As the crackdown on cyberbulling continues across the Web--Facebook recently implemented new security tools with the intent to tackle the issue--it's important to remember that this is a matter with effects more widespread than we even realize. We can forget our previously held notions of cyberbulling, and the idea teen girls are the mean girls. Cyberbullies come in all shapes and sizes--even if there isn't a movie to remind us of that.