A new generation of bullies is on the rise and taking over a new playground, the rapid-growing cyber world of social media. has taken steps towards educating both students and parents about cyberbullying. Two regarding the definition, prevention and resources related to Internet safety and cyberbullying have taken place at , one earlier this month, and one Tuesday night.
The key speaker of Tuesday's workshop was Charlene Mutter, AUSD's Coordinator of Curriculum, Assessment and Professional Development. Other voices heard included Greg Gazanian, AUSD's Manager of Technology, and Scott Bramley, the district's Director of Technology.
Bramley said cyberbullying was "something we’ve been aware of for a long period of time, that there’s a need for us to provide information for people who are looking for information. I know there are a lot of parents out there that are concerned about their kids on the Internet and with technology, and so I think we’ve always felt it’s important to get the information out in anyway we can."
AUSD is taking a firm stance against cyberbullying and has seen positive results.
Schools are doing their part by enforcing district policies regarding cell phones and students not using them during school hours, making students sign an acceptable use contract for surfing the Internet, integrating Internet safety and cyberbullying lessons during health P.E. classes, as well as keeping continued communication with parents and thoroughly investigating all reported incidences.
Mutter said many cyberbullying cases stem simply from students clicking “like” on hateful Facebook comments that target other students. Some bullies go so far as creating “I hate so-and-so” pages for peers to join.
“By doing the lessons in class children are now saying ‘oh..that happened to me’ and they’re telling someone, so that’s a good thing. We’ve had some cases where parents have actually reported it. We’ve had some cases where the students have reported it to the counselors or assistant principal or teachers. So when we get a report we treat it very seriously and we do the investigation and sometimes it takes a while to figure it out and work out all the little intricacies, but usually we’ve been successful in resolving the issue," Mutter said.
Carl Kao, a father of two young girls in the district, was pleased with the presentation.
“I think it’s a good thing. It’s happening, you know. Bullying has been around since who knows how long; this is a new format which is occurring so same concerns,” Kao said.
Although 96 percent of Millenials are on Facebook, his daughters are part of the 4 percent that are not.
“We’re not allowed to, I don’t want one,” 11-year-old student Allison Kao said. She first learned about cyberbullying at school, saying “it was kind of helpful for me because sometimes I’m really scared when I go online and sometimes I might tell my parents if I’m comfortable about it or not."
Although not many students were sprinkled among the approximately 45 locals who were at the workshop, Allison and her parents thought it was important that she attend.
“From a parental point-of-view, having her here is having third parties supporting what we’re saying, why we’re not letting them do things or why we do, we’re not making it up,” affirmed Carl Kao.
Allison said she appreciates her dad’s supervision in checking her e-mail contacts and making sure she's communicating with real people she knows.
Their mother, Debbie Kao, commented that Allison and her 9-year-old sister Rachel, a fourth-grader at , were too young for Facebook, which sparks the question,
Carl Kao believes that it “depends on the maturity of the child, the personality and the situation. You can’t say at this age or what not."
So what is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying can be defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text.” This includes the spread of hurtful, unwanted and negative words, pictures, and videos targeting someone through some form of electronic text: cell phones, email, text messages, blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc.
In contrast to the traditional notion of a bully, where bullying occurs face-to-face, the cyberbully remains “faceless” and even times anonymous, with the power to instantaneously distribute damaging messages or images to a mass global audience, in places such as the Internet, where information rarely disappears for years to come, if ever.
Who are involved?
According to the Cyberbullying and Online Teens (2007) Pew report, “about one third (32%) of all teenagers who use the Internet say they have been targets of a range of annoying and potentially menacing online activities: receiving threatening messages; having their emails or text messages forwarded without consent; having an embarrassing picture posted without permission; or having rumors about them spread online.”
In addition, 38% of girls reported having been bullied online compared to 26% of boys. The group reporting the highest rate of cyberbullying at 41% was girls between the ages of 15 and 17.
What are consequences of cyberbullying?
The cyberbullying case of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman and talented violinist Tyler Clementi, which happened in September of 2010, is a recent tragic example of the detrimental consequences of cyberbullying.
Clementi committed suicide by jumping from New York’s George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, three days after his roommate Dharun Ravi and classmate Molly Wei secretly broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man live over the Internet.
Around the same time, Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old from Tehachapi, CA hanged himself from a tree in his backyard and ultimately died from his self-inflicted injuries. Walsh had been chronically tormented at school for being gay and bullied long before he came out.
Earlier in 2010, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley High School in Massachusetts hanged herself after being bullied through the halls at school and on Facebook for months after she and her family emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. in late 2009. She began dating a popular football player, some girls got jealous, and the cruelty began. School administration did nothing.
Even after her death, crude comments were posted on her Facebook memorial page. Now nine of the alleged bullies face criminal charges and her case has sparked the nation to move towards establishing stricter anti-bullying laws and charging bullies with criminal punishments.
In July 2008, recent high school graduate Jessica Logan of Sycamore High School in Ohio hanged herself after an ex-boyfriend spread to the student body nude cellphone snapshots she had “sexted” to him when they were together.
Just two months before her suicide, Logan went on a Cincinnati television station to tell her story so no one else would have to go through the daily torment of name-calling, teasing and harassment without help from school officials.
Methods of prevention and resolving
The tragic deaths of these young teens may have been preventable if the right people paid more attention, spoke up and took action. Some signs to look for that a child may be cyberbullied include: If the child avoids the computer, cell phone, iPad or other electronic devices; If the child appears stressed when receiving an email or text. Other possible signs include: Does the child avoid conversations about computers? Does the child appear withdrawn at home and at school? Is the child having trouble sleeping or have a poor appetite?
Some signs that a child may be a cyberbully include: Does the child switch screens or close programs when people walk by? Does the child become more upset then usual when computer and electronic privileges have been taken away? Does the child have multiple online accounts for social networks such as Facebook or Myspace?
Parents can help reduce cyberbullying by maintaining open-communication with their children and talking to their kids about cyber social media and cyberbullying, while encouraging a ‘digital citizenship’ and teaching responsibility.
The ending key message of the speech was not to be afraid of this technology or to take it away from children, but instead to teach them how to use it appropriately and safely. Parents can also take the proactive role of reaching out to administrators, reporting, flagging or deleting inappropriate messages.
Where do you draw the line between supervision and invasion of privacy? Some parents will argue that it is their job to protect their kids and will go as far as reading their texts and not only being friends with their child on Facebook, but also having their login password.
Other parents believe that simply taking cell phones and laptops away at night so kids can’t text, or having the computer located in a family space rather than private bedroom will allow for surveillance without breaching privacy. Some parents restrict Facebook and other media outlets in general.
Whatever your parenting method and values, one thing is clear: Technology is overwhelmingly pervasive and will continue to influence the way we live and interact with one another. The proactive approach is not to run away in fear, but to educate ourselves and our children about how to safely use this technology.
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