Over a quarter (26%) of teen cell phone users reported having been harassed by someone else through their cell phone. Girls are significantly more likely to experience this (30%) than boys (22%). This trend is more common for those teens whose parents are under 40 and low in educational attainment.
Responses in the focus groups were split with regard to how serious of a problem this is. Some teens clearly believe this is major problem with serious social and psychological consequences, while others feel that it is "not really a big deal."
Respondents discussed how harassment can occur through voice calls and text messages. In a voice context, it is often in the form of prank calls. Both voice and text are used to deliver threats and insults. In addition, sexual harassment was mentioned by some, which may help explain why girls reported higher incidences of cell phone harassment overall than boys in the survey. Several teens also reported that cell phones are used to indirectly harass others behind their back, for instance by spreading false rumors.
While these are old problems that young people have always had to deal with, the cell phone gives rise to new concerns about harassment. In their written responses during the focus group sessions, teens explained that it is particularly difficult to escape harassment when it happens over the cell phone. One high school girl wrote: "I think it’s terrible. You can’t escape the hatred. Even when you go home someone can still pick on you." Although the anytime, anywhere nature of the technology is a major draw for teens to stay in touch with their peers, it also provides new opportunities for bullies and harassers to stay connected to their targets.
Another characteristic of the cell phone, especially the lean channel of texting, is that it lends itself to uninhibited behavior for some users. One girl in high school explained that "many people use texting as a way not to do it face-to-face," indicating that some feel less accountable when texting. As a high school boy put it, "People have bigger mouths through text," making it easier for them to deliver threats and insults.