Teen Violence Made Popular Online

YouTube and MySpace are becoming forums for teens who fight and play pranks.

Dec. 7, 2007— -- Three teenage boys from New Jersey were bored one evening, so they decided to take a drive: a mean drive. While cruising down the street they spotted innocent bystanders on the side of the road and shouted out obscenities. It was one of many outings.

To a woman washing her car, they screamed, "Wash that car, you filthy skank!"

To a guy wearing a bathing suit, they said, "Put on some clothes, you sick bastard!"

These are the nicer insults -- most are simply too vulgar to publish.

Teenage boys behaving badly has been around since, well, since there have been teenage boys. But now, technologically savvy young people have a new way to act out. They bring along their video cameras or video phones, record what they're doing and then upload their pranks for the whole World Wide Web to see. That's what the boys in New Jersey were doing and their videos have become popular spots on YouTube.

Fans Clamor for More

"We know it's wrong, we know it's mean, we know we're cowards, but, like, that's the reason why we're doing it," said one of the drive-by participants, Steven Bogda, now 20 years old.

"2020" wanted to know what they told their parents before they went out and did this. Surely they didn't say, "Hey Mom, I'm going out to yell at people. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Well, at first when I was younger, I didn't tell her," said Bogda's friend and former accomplice, 20-year-old Tom Del Guercio. "But eventually she was like, 'Just don't get in trouble,' pretty much."

When asked if his mother was proud, Del Guercio laughed and said he didn't know.

The boys' drive-by videos have become wildly popular on the Internet, attracting more than 6,000 fans on MySpace alone.

"We get messages every day saying, I want another video, give us another video," Del Guercio said. "We get like about 20 new friends every day on MySpace requesting to be our friend."

'It's Just Words'

If it weren't so mean-spirited, it's understandable that boys would find such impromptu, improvisational comedy appealing.

"It's just words," Del Guercio said. "I mean there's a lot of other things people could be doing, so … I don't think it's as bad as, you know, a lot of other things people our age could be doing."

In a way, he has a point. At least they're not physically hurting anyone or damaging property. Many kids post videos of themselves blowing up mailboxes or smashing windows or throwing food and hot beverages at drive-through fast-food employees, a cruel prank known as "fire in the hole." The videos are not legal and many have been pulled from sites like YouTube.

According to Susan Bartell, a psychologist specializing in teenage behavior, pop culture is influencing people to act meaner.

"People are definitely meaner today than when we were growing up," she said. "Being mean makes you famous. Look at, say, Simon on 'American Idol.' That's making him much more famous. It's making the show more famous. And kids and adults are watching that kind of thing, and that's being role modeled for them."

There's a correlation, she said, between fear and respect. And the information superhighway makes it super easy for teens to be even meaner.

"The fact that they know so many people are watching them online is fueling them to keep upping the ante," Bartell said.

When asked if the girls were just as nasty as the boys, Bartell said the girls were even meaner.

"Statistically, cyberbullying happens more among girls than it does among boys," she said.

'Mean Girls'

Exhibit A: This past September in Ohio, a 14-year-old girl brutally attacked a 13-year-old girl in the locker room of the Norwood Middle School, the punching and hair pulling all recorded on 13-year-old Jenny Huber's pink camera.

"There is a lot of fights on the Internet besides this one," Huber said. "There's a Web site just dedicated to fights called psfights.com."

After Huber's friend Amanda Clifford won the fight, Huber victoriously uploaded the video on YouTube. By the next day, the entire school was buzzing, but no one was surprised there had been a fight.

"Everybody thinks it's real amusing that guys fight. Why can't girls?" asked one student.

Katelind Lewis, the girl who was beaten up in the video, told us she felt humiliated and shaken up after the fight.

"They're just out to get everybody so they can be on top," she said. "They're 'mean girls' like that movie."

But Clifford and Huber deny they're mean girls.

"2020" asked Clifford what she did to Lewis. She explained that she hit Lewis in the face, which resulted in a bruise. It was the first time she'd ever hit anyone, Clifford said, and she insisted she'd been bullied into fighting.

"She gave me dirty looks and told me she was going to get me after school. She told people she was going to cut me up with Gatorade caps."

Their Day in Court

Clifford said she posted the fight video on the Web to scare other bullies away. Sure enough, no one has bullied Clifford since. But what she didn't know back then was that she and Huber were the ones who would get in trouble. Both were suspended from school. Clifford got five days and Huber was out for three days. Lewis received no punishment, much to the shock of Huber's mom, Kim Francis.

"Katelind said all she wants was an apology," Francis said. She asked her daughter and Clifford if they were sorry.

"Yes," the girls responded in sync.

But Lewis remains skeptical.

"I don't believe that they're sorry," she said. "They can say it over TV as much as they want, but they've never said it to me personally."

The girls were tried in court last week. Hamilton County Juvenile Court Magistrate Sara Schoettmer minced few words.

"This is a cruel thing that was done," she said. "There was no reason for it. How about we work on a reputation of serious students? OK? Kind people -- people who will smile at someone else instead of making a face, instead of challenging to a fight."

In the end, all three girls were blamed for the fight. Only Clifford was found guilty of disorderly conduct.

Huber, Clifford and their moms all worried about their names being Googled and people seeing the video, as the Internet is unforgiving and forever. Mean behavior, for the world to see, means a college admissions officer or potential employer can see it too.

Bartell's Advice for Parents

1. Be a role model for your kids. Point out mean behavior and act nice yourself. Chances are, your kids will act nicely too.

2. Put all home computers in a public space so you can see what your kids are up to online.

3. Google your kids' names regularly to find out what they're doing on the Web.