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With the rising popularity of the Internet, technology, and social media bullying has taken another form, known as cyberbullying. This recent development has affected lawmakers, elementary, middle, and high schools, parents, communities, and various organizations. Bullying is far from a new issue with children and adolescents but now the bullying has greatly expanded to the virtual world and the bullies have discovered other ways to harass their victims. Bullying has commonly been defined as having the following three factors: physical or verbal behavior that is aimed at another with the intent to cause harm or distress, repeated behaviors, and behaviors in a relationship with unbalanced power or strength (Snakenborg, 2011, p.89). Cyberbullying is similar to bullying but differs because it is an aggressive, intentional act using electronic forms of contact, which includes forwarding confidential emails or pictures, creating cruel websites, sending derogatory text messages and emails, excluding persons from chat rooms or groups and monitoring a dating partner's behavior through electronic devices (Goebert, 2010, 1282). Because the bullying exists online it can reach greater numbers of victims and the perpetrator often faces no consequences while the victim suffers.
When exploring cyberbullying it is important to explore the root of bullying itself. Adolescence is a crucial time is developing social relationships and understanding how to navigate social structures. Clearly not every child is going to fit the mold of the "in-crowd" so bullies take that opportunity to harass the different peer. The factors that contribute to an adolescent's social status are how they act, what they say, who their friends are, their physical appearance, and participation in the classroom. Thornberg (2010) also states that instrumental motives, such as the bully wanting the victim's money or other valued item, and psychological motives like jealousy or putting down a peer in order to feel better about him or herself are common motives to bullying. A third party, also known as the bystander, can play a role in the cycle of bullying and cyberbullying. Whether they are completely passive and just watch it in the halls or see messages on Facebook or they are actually encouraging the bully they aren't helping to stop the harassment. Often times, the bystander is scared of intervening and being socially rejected (p. 311-312). This helps explain how bullying has persisted over centuries and even crossed over into electronic use. Cyberbullying is just another outlet for face-to-face bullying so it consists of the same motives and issues.
Although modern technology came centuries after bullying, it is hugely responsible for the birth and rise of cyberbullying. Pew Research Center conducted a survey and the results supported the recent rise in popularity of Internet use by adolescents. It reported, "an estimated 90% of youth aged 12-17 years are active on the internet on a daily basis" (Snakenborg, 2011, p. 89). J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that media usage, including time spent using a computer, among 8-18 year olds is up 2.25 hours in just the past five years" (Snakenborg, 2011, p. 89). Unrestricted access to social media sites and cell phones as well as the ability to obtain anonymous existence have all contributed to the spread of cyberbullying. Some parents have parental controls or put the computer in a common area of the house to prevent the misuse of the technology but still many children have little to no restrictions or supervision, which creates an environment where the child could misuse the technology.
This virtual world without parents is the perfect environment for children to bully other peers. Not only are parents or adults not around to watch but also a cyberbully can create an anonymous account on social media sites with the sole intention of harassing and embarrassing a peer. Because this bully is anonymous she or he doesn't have a fear of getting in trouble and feels invincible. The technology allows the bully to gain a much larger audience and can attack multiple people easily or share embarrassing or hurtful content to thousands of people. It can also be an outlet for a person who is too timid when face-to-face with peers to stand up for him or herself or to get revenge (Snakenborg, 2011, p.90). Another problem is that kids refuse to tell their parents when they experience cyberbullying because they don't want to lose computer, cell phone, and Internet privileges. Communicating online and through text messages are very important parts of youth's social life and if they can't interact via texting or Internet they fear they will miss out on things. Therefore, two out of three teen victims decide to hide it from their parents and put up with the cyberbullying in exchange for the positive aspects on cyber life (Goebert, 2010, p.1285).
The severity of these negative effects can vary greatly but can be so devastating that a victim commits suicide. Experts agree that victims of cyberbullying are likely to decrease their use of social media, cell phones, and emails, appear jumpy or nervous when using these forms of communication, avoid discussing electronic use, become distant with previously close friends, want to skip school, not perform as well academically, as well as exhibit signs of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, loneliness or unhappiness, and not get a good night's sleep. It is also common for kids to be victims of both in-person bullying and cyberbullying. Goebert (2010) agrees that students report experiencing negative feelings as a result of cyberbullying. He also finds that victims of bullying are three times as likely to binge drink and more than twice as likely to participate in the use of marijuana. One of many suicide cases is the story of Phoebe Prince, a 15 year-old girl who moved to Massachusetts from Ireland. She was bullied at school but then the bullies expanded to the Internet and text messages. Meline Kevorkian, author of 101 Facts About Bullying, commented, "Cyberbullying is dangerous because it can lead to 'cybermobbing', which means kids can come together to bully another kid, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week" (CBS News).
As previously mentioned, bullying over the Internet and a cell phone is particularly dangerous and easy for kids because parents, teachers, and adults aren't present. Bullying has not only continued through the past centuries, it has thrived. Traditional forms of bullying are still around in schools and often cyberbullying is an extension of the face-to-face bullying. Kid's view one's online identity is an extension of one's self so cyberbullying can be very hurtful and offensive just like traditional bullying (Snakenborg, 2011, p.90). According to Goebert (2010), victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to attempt suicide (p. 1285). Cyberbullying has become an expectation of high school. Goebert (2010) surveyed 677 high school students and 56% of them stated they had been victims of cyberbullying in the last year and on average one of five youth report being victims (p. 1282). Schools are continually working to eliminate bullying and now have to make policies for cyberbullying. As history has shown, even though teachers try to eliminate bullying at school they have been unsuccessful, which isn't very encouraging for the new battle against cyberbullying.
"Most authorities agree that it is important for schools to develop policies on bullying and cyberbullying that address the seriousness of the problem and the consequences for engaging in such behavior" (Snakenborg, 2011, p.91). The debate becomes complicated when people discuss what responsibilities and rights schools have in punishing students for cyberbullying that happens outside of the school. The cruel text messages, Facebook posts and messages, and any other social media activity often occur outside of school hours and are intended to be separate. However, the saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" is far from true and as anybody who has ever been insulted or harassed knows, those hurtful words can stay with you for long periods of time. Thus that material can even begin to alter your academic performance, socialization at school, and the general school atmosphere. When the issue becomes so troubling a school administration has the power and responsibility to take action. Snakenborg (2011) provides one federal ruling that supports school intervening is as follows:
â€¦conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason-whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior, materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. (Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969) (p.92)
South Hadley High School's actions, or lack there of, gained public attention after Phoebe Prince hanged herself:
The court papers also shine a negative light on school officials with witnesses saying that Phoebe was so terrified she went to school administrators because 'she was scared and wanted to go home,' but that Phoebe told a friend later that no action would be taken. (CBS News, 2010)
Classmates bullied Phoebe at school and on the Internet and after 3 terrifying months she decided she couldn't handle it and ended her own life. The school's lack of initiative seems troubling because her harassers would yell horrible names to her from down the hall (CBS News, 2010). With such blatant bullying it seems absurd that the school didn't intervene. In March 2010, CBS reported that Phoebe's high school hadn't followed "all the anti-bullying advice they were given months before" Phoebe's death. School officials won't be charged despite the fact that they were aware of the harassment Phoebe endured. It is situations like this that demonstrate the dire need for legal policies and procedures regarding bullying and cyberbullying. South Hadley High School needs policies for both verbal and physical abuse within the school building and cyberbullying that occurs outside of the school.
Not only is it important to establish legal actions that punish cyberbullying but also it is also very important to create and implement prevention and intervention policies that can attack the problem before it leads to severe consequences. In order for these policies to be successful, parents and schools must work together. Multiple prevention programs have developed in response to the rise of cyberbullying among children ranging from 10 and 18 years of age. Snakenborg (2011) provides the following three resources that are working to prevent cyberbullying. "Let's Fight It Together: What We All Can Do to Prevent Cyberbullying" is a curriculum that targets 11-14 year-old students in a classroom setting using videos and activities to raise awareness and teach them how to not abuse technology. Sticks and Stones: Cyberbullying targets high school students and approaches the topic a little differently by using a film starring a victim of cyberbullying. The leader has guided group discussions and activities to further apply the movie's concepts. The Cyber Bullying: A Prevention Curriculum is an eight-session curriculum created for grades 6-12 and incorporates posters, parent materials, and videos. Peer leaders discuss the concept of cyberbullying, what it includes, and its consequences (p. 92). All the programs above are held in school setting but parents can find ways to get involved and stay informed. I think that these programs are a good approach and foster good communication and awareness of the issue. In order to really prevent the issue students need to also receive education about diversity, acceptance, and the power of bystanders because bullying generally is a result of a lack of acceptance and passive bystanders. This is a difficult task because during middle and high school, the culture is focused on fitting in and being cool and the "in-group" defines those standards. Students who aren't the victim or the bully see the slanderous words online or hear it in the hall but don't stand up to the bully because they fear the bully and don't want to be an outcast as well. When a program teaches these three concepts and can actually make an impression on students, I believe bullying and cyberbullying will begin to decline.
With the implementation of these policies, hopefully victims and their family's won't have to take legal action. Currently the federal government doesn't have a law against cyberbullying but individual states have taken action and according to the National Conference of State Legislatures 39 states, including Indiana, have laws against cyberharassment, which is defined as threatening or harassing electronic messages designed to torment an individual (National Conference of State Legislature). If a person reports malicious behavior to the police the harasser could face legal consequences, some as serious as jail time. In Phoebe Prince's case, nine teens were charged with criminal harassment and violation of civil rights after her death. Even though some states don't have explicit cyberbullying laws, victims can take action by accusing bullies of harassment and violation of civil rights like Phoebe's parents did (CBS News).
Parents must take individual actions outside the limitations of the school. Cyberbullying is most prevalent in preteens and teens, which is when children are developing their social skills, place great value in the opinions of peers, and tend to drift away from parents. This is a very important time for parents to set boundaries and expectations. Allowing younger children too much freedom can be an invitation for cyberbullying. At that age they haven't fully developed the social skills necessary to deal with cyberbullying so it is important that parents take precautions (Goebert, 2010, p. 1285). Parents should monitor the sites that their kids visit, ask to "friend" or "follow" them on social media sites so they can see what they post online, see who is on their "buddy list" or who they text, install parental controls to block certain sites, and even ask for their password but tell their children they will only use it if they see a problem (stopbullying.gov). Even when a parent takes all these precautions their child could experience cyberbullying so it is important to talk openly with your child about cyberbullying and if they have ever felt bad because of something someone said online to them or to a friend.
The Internet and technology have many positive aspects but also have ways that people can abuse them and unfortunately children have utilized these methods of connection to harass peers and strangers, thus creating a new sensation of cyberbullying. In the past bullying has devastated millions of children but now with cyberbullying the scope of ridicule and embarrassment has gone global. The Internet allows instigators the power of anonymity and complete access to their victims. This problem has grown even more in the past decade as children get cell phones and regular access to computers at earlier ages. They are still very immature and don't have the discretion of mature adults which makes them easier targets and perpetrators. Cases of young teenagers committing suicide have become more prevalent due to the severity of cyberbullying. Schools are now dealing with the legality of intervening and establishing policies to prevent and persecute cyberbullying. Laws will need to change before this problem can be fully addressed. As for now it is very important for parents to be very involved and aware of their children's actions at school as well as on the Internet and cell phones.