The Curious Case of Schools and Cyber bullying
Everyone knows kids can be cruel and bullies are certainly nothing new but with ubiquitous technology and unprecedented access to the Internet, bullying has been seriously upgraded. Cyber bullying, as it is has come to be known, is different from regular bullying. Internet and social networking have enabled bullies to extend their sphere of influence outside the walls of your local school and into the walls of your home. Today, kids spend a large chunk of time everyday in front of their computers. If they’re not watching videos on YouTube, playing online games or checking their Facebook accounts, they are tapping away on their cells phones and firing text messages off to their friends. Between smartphones and laptops, your child can stay connected every waking hour of the day. This can leave your child continuously exposed to attacks from cyberbullies who use computers and cell phones as their digital weapons. Lobbing insults electronically can be done anonymously and hateful messages can spread instantly. Cyberbullies catch on to this all too quickly.
What is Cyber bullying?
The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyber bullying as “the use of the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post, text or images, intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” Almost half of all American teens have been affected by cyber bullying . In a 2004 survey of 1,500 students between grades 4-8, 58% reported that they had not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that has happened to them online.
One 2010 study by the Cyber bullying Research Center says that one in five middle-school students have been affected by cyber bullying. A study of Internet harassment in Pediatrics found that physical and Internet bullying peaked in 8th grade but declined by 11th grade.
Tweens are most vulnerable because this is when the frequency and intensity of bullying is at its peak. Confidence is at its lowest, the stress to fit-in at its highest. Peer-pressure and fear of social ostracization, may prevent kids from telling adults if they are getting bullied or sexually harassed online. Experts who study cyber bullying say it can be more damaging to victims than traditional bullying. As tweens are prone to be impulsive, they may engage in more risky behaviors, and in some instances cyber bullying has led to fatal outcomes.
Tragedy can be eye-opening
The notorious case of 13-year-old Megan Meier stirred widespread fear about the dangers of cyber bullying. Meir’s hung herself in her closet after being the target of a cruel MySpace hoax orchestrated by the mother of an ex-friend of Meir’s. They were also neighbors. Ryan Halligan, also 13, took his own life after being encouraged to do so by one of his middle-school peers. He was repeatedly sent instant messages from middle school classmates accusing him of being g*y on top of being “threatened, taunted and insulted incessantly”.
Dealing with Cyberbullies: A Group Effort
24/7 responsibility for other people’s children is not what teachers and administrators signed on for. Why should students’ behavior on weekends be a school’s problem? This is the difficult conundrum schools are faced with when trying to figure out how to deal with cyber bullying. Their responsibilities and level of authority are undefined. The processes for handling cyberbullies are still in the trial and error stages. Moreover, the Internet makes it tricky to prove who the culprits really are.
So far, the California state legislature passed one of the first laws in the country to deal directly with cyber bullying. This law gives school administrators the authority to suspend or expel students who commit cyber bullying. At least 13 states have passed such laws, including Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington, with other states also considering similar measures.
Laws do make people’s rights against cyber bullying – and the consequences for it, more clear. But every case is particular, and judges find themselves nonplussed when it comes to issues concerning school searches (can a principal search a cellphone like they would a locker or a backpack?) and the protection of student speech. Some school administrators have also raised concerns about pedophile accusations if they happen to fall upon an indecent text message on a student’s cell phone.
Internet attorney, Christopher Wolfe, states that schools have a responsibility to protect victims of cyberbullying. “You must have some punishment that is on the books in the school regulations, and you must have rules and regulations about appropriate use of Internet tools.” Schools can provide parents and students with a handbook that details their Internet policy. Anti-bullying committees and groups can also provide a safe-place for victims as well as help raise awareness on the dangers of cyber bullying and the importance of digital responsibility.
Subscription services are also available to help parents monitor their child’s activities on social networks. A NYTimes article outlines some of the major ones. You can track all your child’s online activity, some marked as safe, some as potentially dangerous. Other items are explicitly red-flagged, like a Facebook friend who is considerably older, or a posting with a keyword like “kill” or “suicide.” Filtering or blocking software can be used in schools and at home to prevent teens from accessing social networking Web sites. But don’t put it past your teens to find a way to circumvent the blocking software.
Dr. Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and executive director of WiredSafety, a group that educates about online safety, says the services are no substitute for good parenting techniques, like frequent conversations about Internet activities.
In the eighties, we were living in a material world, now we are living in a virtual one. In this digital age, we are constantly adapting to new technologies which is why some type of consensus and subsequent education on digital responsibility is a good thing for everybody.
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