Digital Learning, School Leadership

Cyberbullying – How can we help our kids?

Cyberbullying is cause for real concern in the 21st century as technology has become a significant part of our lives. In order to address the concern, however, cyberbullying needs to be defined. According to Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin, cyberbullying is “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (p. 40, 2014). They elaborate to explain the behavior is not accidental, it is repeated behavior, it inflicts harm, and it takes place through use of electronic devices. Cyberbullying affects many young people today, thus we must make students area of the issues of cyberbullying along while also teaching our courses.

Middle school and high school students represent a large group of people affected by cyberbullying. Sameer and Patchin did extensive research regarding many popular sites and apps finding that 25 percent of the teens they surveyed experienced cyberbullying through social media websites and cellphone apps. Significantly more females reported being victims of cyberbullying than males. They also discovered that 17 percent of the kids surveyed admitted to cyberbullying others some time in their lifetime while 11 percent said they were both victims and offenders of cyberbullying some time in their lifetime (2014). A study done in 2013 also found that up to 10 percent of college freshman had posted cruel remarks against themselves during high school, called self-cyberbullying.

Let’s look at two examples of bullying. One that resulted in suicide and one that resulted in police involvement because of death threats.

The first one is about Ryan Halligan. The example of cyberbullying that affected Ryan included rumor spreading, messaging, and information spreading. (HInduja and Patchin talk about this in their book) Mostly likely, these attacks on Ryan made him feel sad, unsafe, and possibly angry. He also felt rejected and embarrassed when the girl he thought was his girlfriend humiliated him. He may have felt worthless as well which, coupled with depression, likely lead to suicide. According to his parents, he had “meltdowns” at the kitchen table. He didn’t want to go to school. He also didn’t want his parents to go to bat on his defense for fear that it would make it worse. This type of bullying can lead a child to retreat from their family and friends.

Ryan’s instant messages were saved as his mom was able to read through them to what events occurred before his suicide. She was able to see how he shared personal information and it was shared without his consent along with a rumor. However, Ryan didn’t tell a trusted adult about these messages. He also was not ignoring them. Although, it is a difficult thing to ask a child to ignore hurtful things.

Based on the website created by Ryan’s parents, it doesn’t seem like the school was aware or did anything about the cyberbullying. The parents also did not take action because they too, didn’t know about it. Even though the parents did not know about the cyberbullying until it was too late, they could have taken steps to find out about it earlier. They already had a policy of no secret passwords; therefore the parents could have check his computer account to make sure Ryan was using the technology wisely along with the people he was communicating with.

The girl, Ashley, who bullied Ryan was being blamed socially for Ryan’s suicide which turned into a form of bullying towards her. Nothing happened to her or the other boy involved legally because there was not a criminal law that covered these specific circumstances. Ryan’s family reached out to her to tell her although she did a bad thing, she’s not a bad person. I think the family of Ryan responded well by reaching out to the two families. I believe in forgiveness, but I also believe in consequences for actions. At the minimum, these two children should have been given mandatory counseling and community service. Ryan’s story didn’t end with his suicide. Policy law has been put in place as a result of Ryan’s case. The state of Vermont passed policy law and act to assist teacher and others to recognize and respond to depression and suicide risk among teens.

The second case is about Kylie Kenner. Kylie, a high school student, had a lot to deal with emotionally. She was being bullied online and that transferred to her life at school. The main issues present in this bullying case included the website creation that intended to defame Kylie, the command to kill Kylie, and the instant messaging meant to look like Kylie was the sender/owner.

Kylie was a victim via the tools she used and her classmates used every day. Technology changes quickly, but laws take months or even years to get passed. Some of the issues with Kylie’s experience is the lack of laws to support her. The only problem that could be addressed by the law were the threats to kill Kylie because murder is illegal. However, there were no laws in place to address the website meant to harm Kylie emotionally and the messages sent as impersonations of her.

Parents and teachers need to be well-versed in the risks with allowing their teens unsupervised technology use. Parents need to diligently and vigilantly checking devices to make sure their teens are safe and engaging in safe activities. Rules must be set and followed. Both teachers and parents should be teaching their kids of the dangers that are lurking on the internet and work daily to ensure their children are interacting safely in the digital world.

As educators (and parents), it is important to make students aware of the affects and consequences of bullying. When making students aware of the issues and consequences of cyberbullying, conversations about what they would say in person versus what they or someone else have said online behind the guise of anonymity or pseudonymity, virality, or lack of supervision. I often have students write down real things that they have said online. They reflect on them (without sharing them out) then reflect on the question “Would you have said that in person?” That then gives the opportunity to lead into real stories about and from real children that have been effected by cyberbullying. It is important to include all types of cases, from those that may seem insignificant, to those stories that end in suicide.

Woven into my classroom, as we use technology, I infuse information about appropriate use of technology. As we work one-to-one on our Chromebooks equipped with web cams, we can discuss a student who used her webcam to make an inappropriate video. We can talk about specific cases where students have been removed from their sports teams or even school entirely because of the words they posted on sites like Twitter. I have always included a lesson on internet safety. We talk about personal and private information that we intentionally and unintentionally share. We even go through our phones in class and check the security and data collection settings of our apps. Together, we use Twitter and e-mail to communicate, so we often have conversations about etiquette as well as appropriate information to share in those platforms.

References

Halligan, J. & Halligan, K. (2010). Ryan’s story. Retrieved from http://www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org/

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. (2014). Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California.

Struglinksi, S. (2006 Aug 18). Schoolyard bullying has gone high-tech. Retrieved from https://www.deseretnews.com/article/645194065/Schoolyard-bullying-has-gone-high-tech.html

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