Cyber Bullying

A Call to Action

Dr. Phil welcomes his son Jay, who recently wrote the book, Jay McGraw's Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies. "You've been dealing with this for years now," Dr. Phil observes.

"I have. In all the shows that we've done here about bullying, I learned two things: One is that this happens to almost every kid," Jay replies. "Second, parents have no idea that this is going on, and if they do know, they have no idea of the extent to which it's going on."

Dr. Phil notes that several years ago, Jay created anti-bullying initiatives and traveled to schools throughout the nation to promote them. "Why do you suppose that parents don't pick up on this?" he asks, referring to children being harassed in school.

"Kids hide it from them. Cyber bullying is the new version of going behind the bleacher to have a fight. Nobody fights in the halls or in the classrooms. You go off where nobody can see you, and you do it there. Cyber bullying is the same way," Jay explains.

"What do you want to do today?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I want to give parents the information they need to see what's going on, and I want to give parents, and teens and kids the tools to do something about this," Jay replies. He faces the camera. "I want to spearhead a call for action. If your son or daughter is the victim of cyber bullying or bullying, we're going to help you know what to do and how to get in touch with the right people."

Jay recently sat down with a group of high school students to discuss how cyber bullying has impacted their lives.

"Is cyber bullying very common?" he inquires.

"It happens every day," replies 17-year-old Kyle. "You can say, ‘I hate you,' but it's anonymous. No one can figure out who it is."

"I got called a whore and a booty call," says 17-year-old Kristina.

"You're gay. You're a fag," says 15-year-old Cristian, referring to the names he has been called.

"They called me a lying, back-stabbing bitch," reveals 16-year-old Alexis. 

"The worst was the rumor that I was bulimic," shares Paige, 17.

"People were saying that all I deserved is that I should just be a * hooker, and go live in a prostitution house," says 17-year-old Austyn.

Jay sympathizes with the teens. "You know it's not true, but now they post it on this public forum, and everybody at school reads it," he says.

"People egg each other on, and it just keeps getting worse," says Paige.

Turning to a computer, Jay pulls up a Dr. Phil producer's MySpace page and has Kyle demonstrate how easy it is to insult someone online. "No accountability, and you write whatever you want," Jay muses.

Then he turns the tables on the teens. "Have any of you ever been a cyber bully?" he asks.

"My friend and I got into an argument over an IM. It was stupid. He was saying a bunch of stuff. I was, like, ‘Yeah? Well, I'm going to do your sister, and we're going to have nice little kids.' It was just bad," Kyle admits.

"I think that the fact that you're willing to tell us that you did it and acknowledge that you shouldn't have is big of you," Jay praises the student.

Connor, 15, shares his story. "I liked this girl, and she wanted to break up with me. I got really mad at her, and I called her some bad names on MySpace. I think her mom ended up seeing my comments. So I called her up and I apologized. I definitely learned a lot from it," he says. "I think it's good to get parents involved, because what if someone took this way too hard and ended up taking their life because of something like this?"

"Which is actually not uncommon," Jay says.

Back in his studio, Dr. Phil turns to Connor, the teen who admitted to writing mean comments on his ex-girlfriend's MySpace page. "What went through your mind when you did that?" he asks.

"I think I just wanted to retaliate, because at the moment, I was kind of mad at her," he replies. "Just the fact that she wanted to break up with me for another guy, it kind of made me a little sad and I reacted the wrong way."

Dr. Phil has strong words for children who harass others online. "What gets me about these keyboard bullies is there is nothing more cowardly than someone who will do stuff and hide who they are," he tells Jay. "I think that is gutless and cowardly."

Another way that teens torment each other is by videotaping fights and posting them online. Alex, 13, recorded two female students coming to blows and posted a video of their skirmish on YouTube.

"Did you have any problem with doing this at the time? Did you think it might hurt somebody else or embarrass someone?" Dr. Phil asks Alex. 

"Yeah. I asked the girl * if she wanted me to put it on. She said yeah, but I guess her mom found out. She told me to pull it off. So did [my stepdad] John, so I took it off," the teen replies. "Six months later, I guess, I completely forgot about him telling me, and I put it back on, and he found out about it."

"I hate it when that happens," Dr. Phil deadpans. He turns to Alex's stepfather, John. "Obviously, you should object to do this, but why did you?"

"He posted it when he was 12. I don't think he really realized. He just stumbled across it, and he put it online," answers John. "I told him, 'I just don't want you to have anything to do with this,' and I had him yank it off."

Alex's mother, Kim, says she was bothered by the video. "It's quite disturbing to see such young girls fighting like this," she tells Dr. Phil.

Dr. Phil turns to Steve DeWarns, a police officer who is also the founder of Internetchildsafety.net. "How do the police determine when cyber bullying is actionable, when it becomes a crime?" he asks.

"When it crosses over into threat of harm to that person, then we can take action. Oftentimes, it does escalate rather quickly into threats against somebody," Steve replies.

"If somebody is harassing their child on the Internet " either MySpace, or chat rooms, or e-mails or Instant Messages " and they're threatening to kick their ass, or beat them up or kill them, or whatever, then that crosses the line, and it's now actionable," Dr. Phil clarifies.

"Absolutely. Law enforcement can and will step in under those circumstances," Steve answers.