Bullying knows no boundaries: the insidious nature of cyber bullying

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

The school year has come to an end, and one of the issues that I have discussed for several years has been an anti-bullying law for Massachusetts. Finally, last year Massachusetts became the 45th state to enact an anti-bullying law. Unfortunately, it took the suicides of 11 year old Carl Walker-Hoover of Springfield and 15 year old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley to convince state lawmakers to enact a state law.

Since being elected to the School Committee, I have been a strong advocate for anti-bullying legislation for as a former principal I saw firsthand what it did to our children. Bullying is unfair and one-sided. It happens when someone keeps hurting, frightening, threatening, or leaving someone out on purpose.

It wasn’t that long ago that bullying was often overlooked by teachers and parents, dismissed as a common if painful, rite of passage along the bumpy road to becoming an adult. This is not so any more as research has stated how devastating this behavior can be to the individual. No longer can we can say to the students, “Work it out” for they need to learn specific strategies to cope with these situations.

Like the rest of the 351 school districts in Massachusetts, the Worcester Public Schools has a plan in place, as required by law, to address any bullying issue. I believe that the Worcester Public Schools has a very strong plan and the key to the success of it will be for everyone to take this issue seriously.

In the Worcester Public Schools everyone has been trained and the training will be ongoing each year. Research states that school based prevention reduction can decrease bullying. Schools with the largest reduction in bullying were those that thoroughly and consistently implemented programs using a whole school approach…meaning that everyone is on board.

The Worcester Public Schools has that philosophy embedded into its plan and I believe that its one of the strongest plans in the State. The key leader in the implementation of the plan was Dr. Jeff Mulqueen, Chief Academic Officer, along with a talented and dedicated staff surrounding him as they crafted the new anti-bullying plan.

The district is committed to providing all students with a safe learning environment that is free from in-person bullying and cyber bullying. Any parent who wishes to review the plan can go on line at the Worcester Public Schools website and read it via the internet.

As we enter the summer months, bullying does not take a vacation! As students have moved into cyberspace, so has bullying. E-mail and instant messages have become the new frontier for verbal harassment.

There are threats, intimidation, and even gang recruitment through sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. As Dr. Mulqueen stated, “Conflicts that occur between students are not new to education. However, the issues have become more complex in recent times due to the emergence of new technologies.”

With technology, students can be cruel to each other in ways that were unimaginable. One student was quoted as saying, “I’d rather take a physical beating, because that has a start and an end time. But with cyber bullying it goes on and on.”

Cyber bullying can be hard to control because the students are very technology savvy more than most adults who are trying to monitor them. A teen will post a nasty comment online, but delete it before it reaches an adult’s hand.

Cyber bullying can be defined as bullying through the use of technology or electronic devices such as telephones, cell phones, computers and the Internet. It includes but is not limited to, e-mail, instant messages, text messages, and Internet postings.

So what can be done during the summer time to prevent cyber bullying?

Here are some ideas to consider and to pass on to your teen:
Refuse to pass on cyber bullying messages
– Tell friends to stop cyber bullying
– Block communication with cyber bullies
– Report communication to a trusted adult

Don’t forget that even though you can’t see a cyber bully or the bully’s victim, cyber bullying causes real problems. If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online. Other things that students should consider… never post or share your personal information online (this includes your full name, address, telephone number, school name, parents’ names, social security number or your friends’ personal information.

In addition, never have your child share Internet passwords with anyone, except you, encourage them to never meet anyone FACE TO FACE who they only know online and please get your child to talk to you about what he/she do online.

Recently at Worcester Technical High School, author Rachel Simmons spoke to girls and their mothers about cyber bullying. Ms. Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: the Hidden Culture of Aggression in girls and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence stated, “What social media has done is that it has taken friendships and it has made friendships something tangible and public that girls can compete over and compare themselves to.”

She spoke at length about the “mean-girl” culture and that parents need to be honest with themselves about their child’s ability to be mean. She urged parents to pay attention their child’s social media activity and to moderate their activities for most girls are addicts to the social media. Her advice was to stay involved and have rules around technology in your home. Let your child know that you can find out what she’s doing.

To learn more about identifying, preventing, and responding to cyber bullying, please visit the Cyber bullying Research Center (www.cyberbullying.us). This information clearinghouse provides research findings, stories, cases, fact sheets, tips and strategies, current news headlines on the topic, online quizzes, a frequently‐updated blog, and a number of other helpful resources. It also has downloadable materials for educators, counselors, parents, law enforcement officers, and other youth‐serving professionals to use and distribute as needed.

As a community we need to create an environment where children feel comfortable talking with adults about this problem and feel confident that meaningful steps will be taken to resolve the situation. We also need to get everyone involved ‐ youth, parents, educators, counselors, law enforcement, social media companies, and the community at large.

It will take a concerted and comprehensive effort from all stakeholders to really make a difference in reducing cyber bullying. We need to stamp out cyber bulling because of the effect it has impacting students’ emotional well-being. If students don’t feel emotionally safe or comfortable in school it will impact their ability to focus and engage with other students. Cyber bullying is even more insidious as it can take place wherever the student goes on a computer whether it is home or school. It is up to us, as adults, to protect them from this technological form of bullying.

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