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Bullying

Text Bomb: What Parents Should Know About This Cyberbullying Sidekick

Roughly one in two American children has a smartphone at age 11, and that number skyrockets to 85-95 percent among older teens, of whom 45 percent say they spend time online “almost constantly”. It’s clear that kids and teens growing up today are far more entrenched in the digital world than their parents have ever been – and with that come a whole host of new and unique issues and avenues for interpersonal conflict and bullying.

While the rate at which children are bullied and bully each other has remained steady at about 20 percent, the nature of that bullying has shifted considerably in recent years towards far more online bullying or cyberbullying. Some experts have argued cyberbullying presents the potential for even more harm than face-to-face “traditional” bullying.

More than just a nasty message or a malicious comment, cyberbullying can take on the dangerous forms, including “doxxing” a child (making private information public) and “swatting”. The fact that many teens and youngsters often start cyberbullying others anonymously provides them with an emboldened feeling to say and do things they would never say or do in person.

Long before things escalate to such a degree, however, the myriad of ways in which teens bully one another through the Internet can leave long-lasting impressions and far-reaching repercussions, including self-harm and suicide. One common practice is the text bomb, which was much more prevalent during the days of teenage SMS and has since taken on different forms.

What Is a Text Bomb?

Text bombing can be defined as the practice of rendering a person’s phone unusable by way of mass texting hundreds and thousands of copies of the same message, often slowing down, or crashing their device. The contents of the text bomb don’t always matter but can include anything from a prank message to gibberish to encouraging suicide.

When sent via SMS, text bombing someone can incur major charges on their phone bill. When sent via instant messaging, the constant notification pop-ups can range from annoying to downright traumatizing (especially when the contents are tailored to target a teen’s insecurities or low self-esteem). Text bombing campaigns can end in an hour, or last for weeks.

They’re easy to launch and take very little effort – text bombing applications and websites are a dime a dozen, and whenever one dies, another two pop up to take its place. These applications utilize a dummy number that can’t be traced back to the real sender and send out anywhere from 50 to a few thousand messages over a given period of time with the sender’s intended message.

The other side of the coin features anti-spam and anti-text bomb applications which work to help prevent or block text bombing by:

    • Filtering incoming messages.
    • Blocking unknown senders.
    • Warning a user of a potential text bomb/spam campaign.

Why Would That Be Dangerous?

For those of us who grew up without any great attachment to our phones and the communicative possibilities of the modern-day smartphone, the idea of a text bomb presents itself as a minor inconvenience at best. But it’s an entirely different situation for a teen, especially one who has been bullied in the past, or is struggling with a series of insecurities. The answer to cyberbullying does not lie in just “getting up and walking away”.

Teens live in a day and age where their connection to the Internet is not just a luxury or a source of entertainment, but a considerable part of their social life and one of the few escapes they have from crippling isolation during a global pandemic. Many rely on their connectivity to do schoolwork, interact and communicate with friends, and continue their education. They cannot disconnect themselves from the web.

Furthermore, in cases where text bombing represents just a single facet of a larger bullying campaign, teens must grapple with not just the content of their tormenters’ messages, but with the impact those messages can have on their reputation. Despite the fact that information moves at the speed of light and we move past old stories almost as quickly, nothing is ever truly forgotten online, and the repercussions of being canceled or smeared can lead a teen to believe that their life has ended before it even had a chance to start.

Is Text Bombing Still Prevalent?

Thankfully, the trend of text bombing seems to have died down since it spiked heavily in 2011-2013, and again in 2018. Text bombing seemed to hit its stride around the same time that teenagers largely relied on text messaging (SMS) to communicate over any other form of communication, including talking face-to-face. Since the early 2010s, however, SMS messaging has slowly been on a decline while teens continue to communicate largely over:

    • WhatsApp
    • Messenger
    • Snapchat
    • Discord
    • Telegram

Nevertheless, many teens still rely on SMS to communicate with friends nearby, particularly in places where their mobile data plan doesn’t provide a reliable Internet connection. For iPhone users in particular, however, text bombing has seen the inclusion of a brand-new friend – the iMessage bug message, which has taken on a number of different forms, including the Telugu bug, the “effective power” message, and most recently, the iOS 13 text bomb.

These messages would typically freeze up or crash a user’s phone just by appearing in a notification or on any Apple-native text app, caused by the unique combination of characters from different scripts and select emojis. These bugs exploit a weakness in Apple’s instant messaging service, essentially overloading the phone’s memory and causing it to stop functioning properly or get stuck in a boot loop. Rebooting the phone to recovery is typically a reliable fix, but only works until the next time the message appears.

While Apple has been quick to fix these bugs, they’re sure to take on new forms in the future as developers and hobbyists continue to find issues with the app, or other apps. Similar text bombs have plagued Android users as well. Text bombs are just one form of cyberbullying, especially when the intent behind them isn’t to play a quick prank on a close friend, but to incessantly torment and emotionally torture another teen.

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Mental Health Parenting Prevention Safety

Cyberbullying And Teens: The Facts

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve recently talked about text bombing and sexting, with the overlying arc being cyberbullying. It is defined as pervasive, relational aggression, also known as “covert aggression.” It is carried out via the use of electronic technology, such as cell phones, computers, and tablets by means of text messages, social media sites, and online “chatting.” For example, someone may create an online rumor by posting an embarrassing, or inflammatory image or story on social media or in an email. Because it’s online, it has the capacity to spread much faster and have a longer reach.  Cyberbullying intimidates its victims with its intent to control, isolate, shame, and instill fear.

Some forms of cyberbullying are: 

1. A person pretends to be someone else and chats or messages someone online with the intent to trick, shame, or embarrass someone else.

2. Extremely sensitive or personal information is posted and shared online.

3. Lies and gossip are maliciously posted or shared online.

4. Digitally manipulated, often pornographic images are posted or distributed without consent.

5. Online threats. These can be vague or specific.

6. Exclusion, or intensionally excluding someone from an inner or online group or site

 

Why is cyberbullying different?

 

1. There is no “off” button: this type of bullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The aggressor can reach its target when they are alone, late at night, and early in the morning.

2. Images and/or messages can be posted anonymously to a wide audience, and they can be difficult to trace.

 

What can you do?

 

1. Monitor your child’s web activity. Take care to really pay attention to what sites they are using and how “connected” they are. Increase your vigilance if you notice your child is showing signs of depression, becomes withdrawn,  or suffers from low self-esteem.

2. Teach your kids to avoid environments rife with cyberbulling: Facebook, chat rooms, Snap Chat are some of the many sites out there that are breeding grounds for this behavior.

3. You decide what places are unsafe for your child, taking age, maturity, and other factors into consideration.

4. Arm yourself with information. Become well-versed in the ins and outs of social media sites. Get tech savvy, folks and embrace your inner geek!

5. Express the importance of keeping personal information personal and off of the Internet.

 

Unfortunately, statistics are showing an increase in cyberbulling not a decrease:

 

1. 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.

2. 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.

3. 58% of kids have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.

4. 40% of kids have had their password(s) stolen and changed by a bully.

5. Cyberbullying victims are eight times more likely to report carrying a weapon to school in the last 30 days than non-bullied teens.

6. Cyberbullying has led to at least four documented cases of teen suicide in the United States.

7. Only 15% of parents polled knew what cyberbullying was.

 

Cyberbullying isn’t going away right now; it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the increase and variability in technological tools and means of communication. We as parents and teachers need to arm ourselves with information and learn to make better, safer choices. Frankly, most kids don’t need smart phones, but they have them and as a result, they have easy access to a multitude of apps that are designed for online social activity. Some are even designed to promote anonymity or to delete messages as soon as you’ve sent them.  This is a good opportunity to have stronger, more defined boundaries and some dedicated time set aside that is technology free.

 

You can:

1. Have a no-tech zone around meal times.

2. Go on an outdoor adventure with your family that is technology free.

3. Embrace the value of direct communication. For example, call someone instead of texting.

Technology was designed to make things more efficient and interactive. It has the capacity to reach into spaces we never thought possible. Still, we must harness its dark side for the sake of safety and well-being.

Resources:

Internet Safety Project

Psych Central

Bullying Statistics

Stop Bullying.gov

Categories
Adolescence Communication Parenting Prevention Safety

What You Need to Know About Sexting

TEDxBKK – Sexting (Photo credit: isriya)

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via your cell phone.

 

The Internet is a vast, unchartered space. Technology has expanded so much that our means of communication has forever changed to include text messaging, emailing, instant messaging, video calling, and emailing. As a result, we are faced with things like sexting. One of the most troublesome things about sexting is its wide reach. A text message can circulate remarkably fast and beyond the control of its original sender.

 

A recent study has shown the following:

  • 20 percent of teenagers (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online[1]
  • nearly one in six teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.[2]

 

Notably, researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch discovered teens that sext are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors:

 

  • 28% of teens admitted to having sent a sext.
  • 76.2% of teens who were asked to sext admitted to having had sexual intercourse.
  • 68% of Girls were asked to send a sext vs 42% of boys
  • The peak age of sexting is around 16-17 years old
  • Sexting seems to decline in people 18+

 

From the perspective of the criminal justice system, teen sexting can fall under the child pornography statutes[3]. For example, a teen that takes a nude photograph of themselves has created child pornography; as soon as they hit “send” they have distributed child pornography. The significant danger lies in the fact that these images inevitably get passed around and often spread like wildfire across a school. This creates an environment rife with bullying, shaming, exclusion, and in some cases, suicide: An 18-year-old high school graduate committed suicide after a nude photo she sexted to her boyfriend was also sent to hundreds of teenagers in her school.[4]

Thus far, only 17 states have sexting laws in place.

Here’s what you can do to prevent sexting:

  • Parents, talk to your kids in a safe, relaxed setting about the perils of sexting. Ask what they know about it. Express how you feel in a non-threatening, non-confrontational way. Create a healthy, two-way dialogue. Remember, you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
  • Some kids are responding to peer pressure in the form of bullying, sexual harassment—after a breakup, those images can be used as revenge. Sometimes it’s impulsive behavior or flirting. Help your child understand that it is always a poor choice.

Kids:

  • Think about the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a comprising photograph to someone via text. You could get suspended, expelled, kicked off of a sports team, and/or get in trouble with the law.
  • Never take photographs of yourself you wouldn’t want everyone to see (classmates, parents, teachers, employers)
  • Before hitting “send,” remember that you cannot control where this image goes. What you send to your romantic partner or friend could be forwarded to their friends and friends of friends.
  • If you forward an image of someone that is compromising, you are as responsible as the original sender. You have essentially become complicit in someone else’s criminal activity.
  • Report any nude or compromising photographs you receive on your phone to an adult you trust. Do NOT delete it. Instead, immediately get your parents, teachers, and school counselors involved.

 


[1] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Cosmogirl.com, “Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults”;https://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_Summary.pdf  

[2] John Sutter, “Survey: 15 Percent of Teens Get Sexual Text Messages”;https://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/15/pew.sexting.survey/index.html 

 [3] Justin W. Patchin”Summery of State Sexting Laws, https://cyberbullying.us/summary-of-state-sexting-laws/

[4] Mike Celizic, “Her Teen Committed Suicide Over Sexting”; https://www.today.com/id/29546030/#.UnvjcpTXR8s

Reference:

Teen Sexting–The Real Issue (psychology today)

Sexting: Risky Actions and Overreactions (FBI)

Cyberbullying Research Center

Categories
Adolescence Bullying Parenting Prevention Safety

What You Need to Know About Text Bombing

are you really laughing out loud? (Photo credit: MrPessimist)

The concept behind text bombing is to save time: you can send mass texts out to multiple people telling them where to meet you, et cetera. Ultimately, it was designed to be a cheap tool for efficiency. According to this latest from Huffington Post,  text bombing is the latest technological tool used by cyberbullies to go after their victims. The sender can be anonymous and the apps can be programmed to auto-send persistent, negative messages. Text bombing someone means you are sending 1000-10000 text messages to the same person in the same day, and it can go from being simply annoying to cruel. In the banal sense, one could look at text bombing as the equivalent of crank calling someone. Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, text bombing has sinister underpinnings.

 

Imagine repeatedly receiving a text message saying, “die” or “no one likes you,” in the same day.  The victim of the text bomb has to endure receiving the same hateful and/or degrading message time and time again, experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and even depression. Unless you have a means of blocking the text messages, there’s really no way to stop the barrage of hate. You are in a relentless technological loupe.

 

Alas, you can protect yourself!  You can download one of these spam-blocking apps, which allow you to block numbers and texts from coming in:

 

For the Android, you can use Text Bomb Defender or Anti SMS Bomber Pro.

For the iPhone, you can use NumberCop.

 

Parents, if you are worried that text bombing may be an issue for your child, look for the following:

  • A spike in the phone bill
  • Make sure your child’s phone isn’t rooted. (“Rooting an Android phone means that you give yourself, rather than Sprint/Verizon/T-Mobile/AT&T’s software, the permission to act as the administrator of the phone. New Android operating system 2.3 and higher only allows 30 SMS — texts — from the same phone at one time. Teens with rooted phones can still send thousands of texts.” – via Internet safety expert Sedgrid Lewis)