In a word – technology. The teasing or bullying that took place before the advent of cell phones was hurtful, but now almost everyone has a cell phone, a tablet, or a computer so cyberbullying is predominant. Why? You can reach hundreds of people after the click of the Send button or millions, if those people forward it to another few hundred and so on.
I recall, not so fondly, the corded phone that squatted heavily in the living room where my conversations, when I was allowed to talk on the phone, were overheard by everyone. We wanted our privacy just like the adolescents of today, but it was hard to obtain. One time when I hung up the phone my mother said sternly, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Sometimes chastisement by a parent really sinks into your soul. Later, we had phone extensions in different parts of the house and we children thought we could tell our secrets to friends and not get caught. That is, until an extension line clicked and you realized that both sides of the conversation were overheard – not just the one originating in our house.That was Then. Then, we were more apt to stand up for the people who were teased, although teasing/bullying wasn’t prevalent. Sure, if you dropped your tray in the cafeteria everyone laughed, only because they thanked their lucky stars it wasn’t them that was the center of attention. I remember a girl in my Advanced English class who ate crackers whenever she wanted to it seemed. Usually, her cracker eating was prefaced by a long guttural burpy noise that tended to disrupt the class. We smiled behind our hands because we didn’t understand, but no one taunted, teased or humiliated her in that context. I believe a teacher told us (pre HIPPA laws) that she had a medical condition and couldn’t help the noises and that it was necessary for her to eat something. We felt empathy and sympathy for her and the smiles behind our hands stopped. Now. There is anonymity with devices and people hide behind them with little accountability for their actions. Cyberbullying reaches beyond the daily life of the student and into the student’s home so the effects can be more devastating by using communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. 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.
Here’s a recent true example from a local high school. Girl feels confident in a relationship with a boy who is attentive. He asks her for a photo of her in a skimpy bikini and keeps pressuring her to send one, just for him. Finally, she gives in, sends the photo and it is forwarded to all of his friends who send it to all of their friends who send it to their girlfriends and soon she is the laughing stock of her high school. Gullible? Maybe. But who would expect that kind of subterfuge?
Cyberbullying reaches beyond the daily life of the student and into the student’s home so the effects can be more devastating. The global organization, DoSomething.org says nearly half of kids have been bullied online, with one in four saying it has happened to them more than once.
Stopbullying.gov offers the following suggestions;
Be Aware of What Your Kids are Doing Online
Talk with your kids about cyberbullying
and other online issues regularly.
Know the sites your kids visit and their
online activities. Ask where they’re
going, what they’re doing, and who
they’re doing it with.
Tell your kids that as a responsible
parent you may review their online
communications if you think there is
reason for concern. Installing parental
control filtering software or monitoring
programs are one option for
monitoring your child’s online
behavior, but do not rely solely on these
Have a sense of what they do online
and in texts. Learn about the sites
they like. Try out the devices they use.
Ask for their passwords, but tell
them you’ll only use them in case of
Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on
social media sites or ask another
trusted adult to do so.
Encourage your kids to tell you
immediately if they, or someone they
know, is being cyberbullied. Explain
that you will not take away their
computers or cell phones if they confide
in you about a problem they are having.
Establish Rules about Technology Use
Establish rules about appropriate
use of computers, cell phones, and other
technology. For example, be clear about
what sites they can visit and what they are
permitted to do when they’re online.
Show them how to be safe online.
Help them be smart about what they
post or say. Tell them not to share
anything that could hurt or embarrass
themselves or others. Once something
is posted, it is out of their control
whether someone else will forward it.
Encourage kids to think about who
they want to see the information and
pictures they post online. Should
complete strangers see it? Real friends
only? Friends of friends? Think about
how people who aren’t friends could
Tell kids to keep their passwords safe
and not share them with friends.
Sharing passwords can compromise
their control over their online identities
According to the Megan Meier Foundation, which campaigns against bullying, peer victimization is associated with higher rates of depression and suicide attempts.
Bottom line, Now: Be on the lookout for signs that your children or their friends are being bullied. Sometimes students can be bullied by being purposefully left out of activities or on-line conversations. This is called “exclusion” and is one of several types of bullying today. By being vigilant, parents, educators and students can join forces to prevent and report cyberbullying. It’s the Now that counts.
Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!