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Cyberbullying: A ‘Mobile’ Problem

by and on April 29, 2014 6:30 AM

With updates in technology and increased use of personal devices and social media, the way we interact continues to evolve.

While there are many benefits associated with these changes -- including access to more information and enhanced communication -- such developments also come with an assortment of disadvantages and even dangers.

One such danger, cyberbullying, is receiving more attention today as schools, parents and the government watch the impact on students’ learning, social synergy and health.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers and tablets, as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat and websites, according to Stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.

Kim Hearn, parent of a student in the Bellefonte Area School District, says technology is not only an aspect of everyday life in today’s society, it’s vital to the education system, which has its pros and cons.

“Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a part of the technology of the education system,” she says. “I blame both the patents and the school system for the cyberbullying. As parents, we buy our children the iPods, iPads, Smartphones … As a school system, we allow our children to use the devices during the school day, which can (give) students a lot of educational opportunity. However, there is usage in cell phones and iPods that are not monitored during the school day.”

Hearn believes both parents and school officials should be more diligent in monitoring device use.

“I understand the concept of giving our children responsibility, but in reality they are still children and they do not always make good choices,” she says. “I have told my children, until they are 18, I have full reign of all electronic devices and passwords. Whether or not you believe that this method is right, I am still the one in control because they are children.”

Hearn says cyberbullying can stop if parents and school officials stop allowing usage of these devices without rules or guidelines.

“Let’s face it, children do not make good choices all the time, and in the pressures of being cool or fitting in, they can hurt others by posting to social media networks and texting without realizing they just hurt someone else,” Hearn says. “We are the adults in these children’s lives so we lead by example. Let’s (actually) start acting like adults and make (children) accountable for their actions, and stop making excuses and causing our children to feel entitled.”

The 2008-2009 School of Crime Supplement, part of the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, indicates that six percent of students in grades 6 through 12 experienced cyberbullying. Additionally, the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey find that 16 percent of high school students, grades 9 through 12, were electronically bullied in the past year, according to Stopbullying.gov.

Melissa Hummel, also a Bellefonte Area School District parent, says cyberbullying can affect many aspects of a child’s life.

“Cyberbullying can come into the classroom,” she says, “which can affect the students’ grades and social interaction.”

Another BASD parent, Joy O’Neil agrees, and adds: “cyberbullying teaches children to not deal with positive confrontation.”

Before the term “cyberbullying” was widely known, many research studies cite that the first identification of electronic bullying began with a survey conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. The goal of this 2000 survey was to explore what negative risks children were encountering on the internet. The major themes explored were exposure to sexual exploitation, sexual material and harassment on the internet.

Susan Brindle, head counselor, Girls X-C assistant coach and LGBTA Alliance advisor at State College Area High School, says in her experience cyberbullying seems to happen primarily with the use of online pictures and social media including Snapchat, a photo messaging application. High school students seem to be using Facebook less often, she says, and instead are focusing more on Tumblr and Twitter.

Cyberbullying is not limited to certain ages or grades, Brindle says.

“Anybody who is allowed to have a Smartphone (is at risk),” she says, or anyone who uses the Internet at home.

Cell usage during school hours at State High is limited to between classes, Brindle says. While in the classroom, all phones must be put away. Most periods involve students working on computers, she adds, so teachers work hard to monitor students’ computer use to make sure they are not using social media sites.

Cyberbullying should get special attention, Brindle says, because it’s limitless. Before the increased use of technology and personal devices, oftentimes bullying would end when the school day ended. However, cyberbullying is different.

“It wears kids down in the sense that it’s 24-7,” Brindle says. “It can take place anywhere at any time.”

The solution?

Brindle believes it comes down to the parents, the school and the community to find common language to address the issue.

“It’s not something clearly that we can do alone,” she says. “No one institution can monitor that behavior. The school is only one entity.”

Brindle said unless conversations about cyberbullying are happening outside of school and at home, it is likely to continue.

“We can’t solve this by pointing at one institution,” she says.

On the school level, State High advocates communities and mini communities within the classroom, clubs and sports so students feel like they belong to a group, Brindle says. “(This is so) students can find at least one place they feel like they are supported by adults."

However, Brindle stresses: if a sense of community and support isn’t being reinforced at home, there could still be problems at school.

“Unless these conversations are happening consistently … I don’t know how effective it can be."

According to Bald Eagle High School Principal David Reichelderfer, his school follows the Olweus Bullying Prevention model, which involves structured training of students and staff. The training consists of weekly meetings throughout grades 6 to 8.

“We also follow up with special programs and assemblies for students in grades 7 (through) 12,” he says. “Cyberbullying is one of the topics addressed in these programs.”

Reichelderfer says students’ use of cell phones or smartphones is not permitted during the school day.

“However, enforcing this rule is becoming increasingly difficult because of the prominent use of technology in every aspect of life,” he says.

Any form of bullying could result in a negative effect on a student’s desire to attend school, as well as their academic performance, Reichelderfer says.

Students are encouraged to report bullying. Guidance counselors, school nurses, administrators and instructional staff members have been trained to watch for bullying behaviors and intervene on the behalf of students, he explains.

“This is one of the more challenging issues for schools to deal with,” Reichelderfer says. “Often we are not told about incidents until the behaviors have progressed and multiple people are involved. We are better able to resolve bullying issues if we can address them early.”

State College Area School Board Vice President Amber Concepcion encourages parents to keep an open dialogue on the subject.

Caregivers should carefully monitor their children’s online activity, and even be “friends” with their kids on the social media platforms they’re using, she says.

“The schools also have a role in terms of teaching appropriate online behavior and safety,” Concepcion adds.

Pennsylvania’s anti-bullying laws and policies do cover cyberbullying, according to Stopbullying.gov. There are no specific groups listed in Pennsylvania anti-bullying laws. Schools that receive federal funding are required by federal law to address discrimination on a number of different personal characteristics.

Pennsylvania’s School Code of 1949, amended in 2008, states each school “entity” was required to adopt an anti-bullying policy by Jan. 1, 2009 which it must review every three years.

According to Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act’s website, the law does not prescribe what should be in the policy. PASS Act writers, which include Pennsylvania high school and college students, believe Pennsylvania state law leaves gaps in addressing the issue with weak or non-existent: reporting requirements, comprehensive definitions, effective remediation, awareness of the policy, and education for prevention.

According to the PASS Act’s website, bullying, cyberbullying and harassment are underreported. In 2011, the school districts in Allegheny County (148,255 students) collectively reported 765 cases of bullying, while the School District of Philadelphia (166,272 students) reported only 53 cases. With the City of Philadelphia known to have extreme bullying issues, this number is clearly under-reported. The PASS Act was independently conceived of and written in 2012, according to its website.

For more information visit www.stopbullying.gov.

Stopbullying.gov recommends cyberbullying be documented and reported to online service providers, law enforcement and schools. The website recommends the following tips:

  •       Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages
  •       Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and cell phone service providers
  •       Block the person who is cyberbullying

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Staff Writer at The Centre County Gazette
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