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Online bullying translates to reality: SJU speaker

By Howard Koplowitz

Sexual predators are not the biggest threats to children online, but cyberbullying by their peers is, an expert on the form of computer harassment told a conference Friday at St. John’s University.

Patricia Cathers, director of program and volunteer services for Child Abuse Prevention Services — a Roslyn, L.I., organization — said one-third of children between the ages of 13 and 17 are subject to “bullying and harassment by their peers.”

While the bullying may start online, it often spills into schools — and the cyber harassment is not just confined to boys, Cathers said.

“Girls are becoming increasingly physical and growing more violent,” she said during the daylong conference “Bullying and Its Consequences — In Search of Solutions.”

She said girls usually bully other girls within their social circles, while boys inflict the harassment outside their group of friends.

Cathers said girls are more likely to carry knives while boys are more likely to carry guns.

The Internet age has contributed to the bullying because the teen harassers either feel anonymous, do not think they will be caught or both.

“Cyberbullying acts as a disinhibitor,” Cathers said. “E-mail is easy to write and misread.”

In some cases, the bullies pick on a target as an “experiment in social power,” Cathers said.

“Some do it just because they can,” Cathers said, noting teens do not have the cognitive development to engage in safe online decision-making.

“Kids don’t see their on and offline lives as two distinct lives,” she said.

The conference also included a presentation on anger by Ray DiGiuseppe, chairman of the Psychology Department at St. John’s.

DiGiuseppe said there has not been much study on anger since the father of psychology, Sigmund Freud, said there was a link between the emotion and depression.

“Anger drops out of the discussion on human emotion,” DiGiuseppe said.

He said anger lasts longer than other emotions and pointed out that a recent study found 40 percent of teen girls say they have been angrier for longer than two days.

“Anger causes or leads to more behaviors than any other emotion,” he said, saying if you are depressed, you usually do nothing, while if you’re anxious you either activate the fight or-flight response.

But with anger, you may scream, destroy objects or hit someone, DiGiuseppe said.

He said the violence children display at school toward another student may be displaced aggression — that the child is either angry at his parents or someone else outside of school buts want to take it out on his peers.

“Their is a social display of power,” DiGiuseppe said. “Maybe they go to school and it’s redirected aggression. Displaced aggression and revenge kind of go together.”

The problem with anger, DiGiuseppe said, is that those who constantly display it do not want to change because they enjoy the emotion.

“Angry people don’t come to therapy to change, they come for supervision,” he said.

What DiGiuseppe has found to work is to have his patients fantasize about beating up their ex-wife’s new husband or someone else they feel angry toward until they are satisfied — but to make sure the anger is never actually acted out.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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