Adolescents are using new media technology in increasing numbers. Everyday, teens and pre-teens chat and send text messages on cell phones, take pictures and make videos on their cell phones, check out buddies’ MySpace or Facebook pages, and post blogs on their favorite websites. My own teens rely on these tools to stay connected with their friends and me.
Many have discussed the merits of these technologies and the potential dangers they pose for today’s youth. As a parent and educator, I know that this growth in technology is wonderful for promoting knowledge and connectedness. I also recognize the concern that this technology increases the risk for young people to perpetrate aggression and to become a victim.
Often, this behavior is referred to as “cyber-bullying.” At CDC, we use the term “electronic aggression,” defined as any type of harassment or bullying that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), or text messaging. This broader term encompasses all types of technology youth may use to perpetrate aggression, draws attention to the fact that the internet is not the only source for this potential risk, and provides the flexibility in terminology that we need to keep up with the fast-paced evolution of technology.
So why is electronic aggression of interest to CDC? According to recent studies, 9% to 35% of youth have been victims of electronic aggression; 4% to 21% of youth admit they have been perpetrators. As with face-to-face aggression, electronic aggression is associated with emotional distress and conduct problems at school, which interferes with healthy development. And data seem to indicate that the prevalence of electronic aggression is on the rise.
A December 2007 special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, supported by the Division of Violence Prevention (DVP), represents the first comprehensive presentation of research on this topic. It highlights current data on electronic aggression and summarizes presentations and recommendations from a 2006 expert panel, co-sponsored by CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) and DVP.
A key outcome of the panel discussions was agreement that there is much to learn about this relatively new type of youth violence. Research is needed to answer many questions about the scope and causes of electronic aggression, and to find ways to prevent it.
But we can’t wait until all of the questions are answered to take steps toward prevention. Schools and parents want resources to address this issue. Using what we know so far, CDC has produced several helpful tools-a podcast developed by CDC experts, a prevention tip sheet for parents, and an issue brief for educators and caregivers summarizing what we know and suggesting ways to prevent electronic aggression. We are also developing resources for researchers to support efforts to better understand this problem.
I look forward to seeing how research and programs develop in this field. We welcome your input as we cover this new ground.