Tej Kaur is a Sikh, a religious minority from South Asia. She joins the majority, however, as one of 62 percent of Asian-Americans nationwide who has been a victim of cyberbullying, according to a study released on Oct. 29 by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C..
“The only reason I’m okay now is because of my religion,” said Kaur, 21, who was bullied both online and in school about her faith.
On Oct. 29 she joined over 200 students and parents at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ Bullying Prevention Summit at Hunter College in New York City.
Although bullying is considered by some to be a rite of passage, the bullies of old did not have social media tools, like Facebook, at their disposal. It used to be that bullying took place at school. Now the problem follows kids whenever they can go online, narrowing the gap between home and school, and leaving victims feeling like they have no safe haven.
“The world we live in now with the Internet and cyberbullying makes the stakes even greater,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in her opening remarks at the summit.
The Asian American community has been hit especially hard. They are the fastest growing racial population, and are suffering the most from bullying across the board. In addition to high cyberbullying rates, 54 percent of Asian-Americans report having been bullied in school, 20 percent more than African-Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Two weeks ago MTV aired DISconnected, a movie based on the true story of Abraham Biggs, a bi-polar college student and victim of cyberbullying who live-streamed his suicide online.
At the summit representatives from MTV and Facebook participated in a session to help parents understand the role social media plays in their children’s lives. Gurparash Singh, 54, began texting his daughter because it is the easiest way to communicate with her, he said.
“Since 2009 I have been a better person,” Singh said. “I can talk to my daughter now.”
Still Singh, a Sikh, sees many members of the Asian-American community who are insulated by their lack of social media knowledge. While most adults in attendance did have Facebook accounts, the language barrier between immigrant parents and their children was a concern. Facebook is available in 70 languages, but that doesn’t help parents trying to keep an eye on their children’s English pages.
Social media is also accessible to children earlier than ever. Fifty-two percent of children up to eight years old have access to a digital device, such as a smart phone or tablet, according to a study by Common Sense Media.
“They have very powerful tools in their hands,” said Anne Schreiber, vice-president of Common Sense Media, who also presented at the summit. Schreiber added that the tools have consequences bullies are often too young to understand.
“What I see from your slides,” Singh said of Schreiber’s presentation,” is that a bigger problem is coming.”