How Mean Can Teens Be?

ByABC News
September 11, 2006, 6:26 PM

Sept. 12, 2006 — -- Everyone knows that adolescence is tough, but with the advance of technology, teenagers today have redefined the social battleground.

No longer restricted to schoolyard confrontations, they can bring home the catfights and conflicts, thanks to the Internet.

Lauren, a teen girl from Florida, says she has only one main friend she trusts. "But there's always that fear, and that doubt, that something can happen and all your secrets are out," she said.

Lauren and other girls quoted in this piece asked that their last names not be used to protect their privacy.

In loosely monitored cyberspace, where images are easily downloaded, privacy and secrets can be hard to maintain.

One girl, Paige, remembered, "In middle school, girls would bring their camera phones into the locker rooms. If they didn't like certain girls, that's the way they would get back at them."

Cell phones, instant messaging and personal Web sites like MySpace and Facebook are now common weapons of "cyberbullying," used to spread gossip, rumors and bequeath public lashings -- leaving teenagers with painful battle scars.

The technology often appeals to the strengths of girls, allowing them to fight with emotionally stinging words instead of physical brawn. Although boys and girls both participate in Internet hazing, experts say that girls are more invested in the potential of cyberbullying.

"Boys are more task-oriented," said Brigham Young University researcher Clyde Robinson, who has conducted studies with Brigham Young's Craig Hart and David Nelson to learn why some girls are mean early in life.

"Give 'em a task, and if they're gonna be mean or attack somebody, they'll get on to that task," Robinson said of boys. "The girls, they're going after the emotional jugular."

Bullying can start early, said Hart.

"Preschoolers can be very adept in being mean to one another in relational aggressive ways," Hart said. "If a child feels fairly insecure, to make themselves feel better about themselves, one way is to put others down."