The percentage of U.S. youths who have experienced harassment online rose 50 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to a new study published in the October edition of Pediatrics.

Researchers conducted telephone interviews with 1,500 youths aged 10-17, all of whom had reported using the Internet "at least once a month for the previous six months," writes the report's author Michele Ybarra, MPH, PhD, of Internet Solutions for Kids Inc. in Irvine, Calif.

Questions included:

“In the past year did you ever feel worried or threatened because someone was bothering or harassing you online?”

“In the past year did anyone ever use the Internet to threaten or embarrass you by posting or sending messages about you for other people to see?”

Those who answered “yes” to at least one of those questions were defined as being targets of Internet harassment.

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Online Harassment

A total of 130 youths -- 9 percent of the group -- reported Internet harassment. That’s up from 6 percent among youths who took the survey in 2000.

Those who admitted harassing others online and who had “social problems” were more likely to report harassment. So were those who kept blogs and used instant messaging.

Most kids didn’t report being distressed about their harassment. Half knew their aggressor.

But Internet harassment distressed “almost two in five” of the kids reporting online harassment, the researchers write.

Kids were more likely to report distress if they were younger (10-12 years old), targeted by someone aged 18 or older, and harassed repeatedly.

They were also more likely to be distressed if the aggressor had asked for their photo or engaged in aggressive offline behavior, such as showing up at their target’s house.

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Halting Internet Harassment

Ybarra’s team isn’t telling kids to get off the Internet. But the researchers recommend pulling the plug on Internet harassment.

“The majority of targets are not upset by the experience, and the incidents tend to be isolated incidents between peers,” the researchers write.

“An important minority, however, reports harassment experiences that are repeated, distressing, and include harassers who are adults and aggressive offline contacts,” they continue.

Schools, adults, and Internet service providers should work to halt youth Internet harassment, write Ybarra and colleagues.

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By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Ybarra, M. Pediatrics, October 2006; vol 118: pp e1169-e1177. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.