BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
CENTRAL FLORIDA - As a society built on technological advancements it comes as no surprise that items such as computers, tablets, and smart phones have become staples if not necessities in our everyday lives. Additionally, social media platforms have completely changed our methods of communicating with one another. Basically everything and everyone is only a click away. Unfortunately, while these innovations are thought by many to make life easier, they have also spurred a new enemy for their users, cyberbullying.
For many years students have had to deal with traditional bullying. This consists of being made fun of, being a subject of rumors, being caused physical harm, being excluded or threatened, and/or having property destroyed. While bullying has always been in an issue for students, this new form of online bullying is beginning to become a dangerous trend.
Stopbullying.gov defines cyberbullying as, “Bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Examples include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.”
The website goes on to say that those who are perceived as different or weaker than their peers, those who are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem, and those who are less popular than others are more at risk for being bullied. Also those who are overly concerned about their popularity, like to be in charge of others, and/or do not identify with the emotions or feelings of others are more likely to bully other students. Although nothing is definitive.
In regards to Cyberbullying, some may question its seriousness, as the victim isn’t thought to be experiencing physical pain. However, the previously mentioned website reveals that kids who are being cyberbullied are often bullied in person as well and because technology is a standard in our lives many of the victims have a harder time getting away from the cruel behavior because whether at school or at home their adversaries are taunting them.
In fact, technology is such an integrated part of young people’s lives that according to The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “92% of teens (ages 13–17) go online daily, 71% of teens use more than one social network site, and 90% of those teens with phones exchange texts with a typical teen sending and receiving 30 texts per day.”
With those statistics it is not shocking to discover that 28% of students aged 10 to 18 years old reported being cyberbullied during their lifetime. Some of which become more likely to skip class, skip school altogether, avoid school activities, engage in a physical fight, and suffer from depression possibly leading to suicide.
While some suggest those affected should simply turn off their phones or stay off the internet, is it really fair to suggest a victim change their entire lifestyle instead of dealing with the bully who actually in the wrong?
“In recent years there has been an increase in public awareness about the harmful effects of cyberbullying and what can be done to address it,” said Stacy Davison, Director of Training | Education for ADL, “ADL has worked closely with prominent companies to establish policies for flagging and reporting cyberbullying and cyber hate. ADL also provides training programs to empower young people to act as cyberallies when they witness cyberbullying.”
While this issue is one faced by many people, regardless of age, it seems to be a growing problem for schools all over the country, including right here in Central Florida.
“We have programs in the schools with lessons to help students understand what bullying (including cyberbullying) is, its impact on others and the consequences for those who participate,” said Sherri Owens, Communications Officer for Lake County Schools. “We train staff; we address the issue in our code of student conduct, which we ask parents and students to sign each year; and we raise awareness across our community every October by participating in National Bullying Prevention Month.”
Along with prevention tactics, consequences for such behavior are clearly divulged to students.
“We have added a portion in the front of Code of Student Conduct to call attention to what cyberbullying is and to let parents and students know that we take it very seriously,” said Dana Schafer, Public Information Officer for Osceola County Public Schools. “Consequences for students who commit acts of cyberbullying or harassment may range from positive behavioral interventions up to and including suspension or expulsion which is outlined in the Code of Student Conduct.”
Cyberbullying can have a profound effect on the target and their family. In the case of young students, it is vital that parents are there to support their children.
“Parents should talk with their child and get as much information and physical proof as possible. Be supportive and make sure their child feels safe. Report it to the school if it involves other students and work with the school to achieve a resolution,” said Lorena Hitchcock Manager of Media Relations for Orange County Public Schools.
Along with seeking help from their parents, students affected have other options as well.
“Students are encouraged to report any alleged bullying to a parent or an adult on campus for additional support and assistance,” said Deirdre M. Garnes, Director of Student Support and School Safety For Seminole County Public Schools. “SCPS also encourages use of Central Florida Crimeline's Speakout Hotline through which anyone can anonymously report suspected bullying either by phone at 800-423-8477, via the web at WWW.SPEAKOUTHOTLINE.ORG, or by text to “SPEAKOUT” 274637.”
If you or anyone you know are victims of cyberbullying you are encouraged to report it as soon as possible. Let’s make this school year a safe one.