The good news: kids are not being bullied as much online.
The bad news: bullying by text messages is on the rise.
That's the takeaway from a study whose lead author is Michele Ybarra, president and research director of the nonprofit Internet Solutions for Kids in San Clemente.
She found the frequency and intensity of bullying, harassment and unwanted sexual experiences toward children has decreased online, although her study did not measure access to websites via smartphones.
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Researchers used online surveys to reach 1,600 adolescents ages 10 to 15 starting in 2006, with annual follow-ups in 2007 and '08. The results are printed in the December issue of Pediatrics.
"Unwanted sexual solicitation" by text messaging was 1.9 times higher in 2008 than in 2006, a significant increase. The study looked at perpetrating as well as being victimized, and found that adolescents "sexting"--sending unwanted text messages or pictures of a sexual nature--increased slightly from 2007 to 2008. Harassment via text rose significantly as time went on.
The results are cause for concern, according to Dr. Jorge Srabstein, medical director of the Clinic for Health Problems Related to Bullying, at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He's testified before Congress about bullying.
"This excellent study raises awareness that young people's exposure and experience of mistreatment or victimization on the Internet has remained unabated for several years and that 25 percent of youth reported feeling very distressed by this experience," Srabstein reportedly told USA Today. "People who are bullied and or those who bully others, as well as those who are bystanders, are at a significant high risk of suffering from frequent physical and emotional symptoms, including depression, irritability, sleeping difficulties, headaches, stomachaches, anxiety and above all, suicidal attempts."