The classroom bully is not a new character, but technology has given the bully new shape. The Internet and the accessibility of handheld devices for younger and younger kids has afforded the bully to be more elusive and far-reaching, both in audience and victims.
Findings of a new cyberbullying study illuminates the changes and challenges well. According to the study, physical bullying decreases as children get older, but cyberbullying increases. The study also found:
- Almost 90 percent of students are online by third grade.
- 83 percent of middle school students have a mobile device.
- 35-40 percent of elementary students report being targets of bullying, and 50-53 percent of middle and high school students say they have been victims.
(“One-Fifth of Third-Graders Own Cell Phones” — CNET)
Abuse, harassment, and bullying are not only physical; verbal and written forms of hurtful behavior also make long-lasting and high impact imprints on the victim. Educators, parents, students, and policy makers understand that cyberbullying needs to be reigned in, but how it will be done is still unknown. One reason squashing cyberbullying is so hard is that it doesn’t have a clear-cut definition. Is gossip or rumor spread over social media cyberbullying? Whose jurisdiction does cyberbullying get tried in (law, parental, education)?
One eighth grader, Charlsea Brewer, was recently profiled for being the target of a fast moving rumor on Facebook, in the article “Rumors of Violence, Spread by Social Media, Weigh on Teens, Schools.” After having been picked on, Charlsea wrote a post that wished the popular kids at her school would get shot, which definitely wasn’t a well-thought out statement to share on Facebook, but held no real threat. Within hours, the rumor spread that Charlesea had a “hit list” from which she suffered lasting backlash from parents, peers, and school officials.
The article quotes a Pew Research study as finding that 95 percent of teens are online, and eight out of 10 of those teens have a social media account. “Social media are vital to teens’ lives,” said Amanda Lenhart, a researcher with Pew. “This is their space of social interaction.”
Clearly, social media is a preferred method of communication for most teens, but is part of the attraction due to them not having to be themselves? The anonymity users get from having an online identity can bring out the worst in people. Adults can be just as guilty of spreading inappropriate and scarring words on the Internet. Some teen cyberbullies have even turned to impersonating students and faculty through fake Facebook and Twitter accounts they set up to post offensive comments, according to the article “Students Create Fake Online Profiles to Bully Peers.”
It’s clear that we have a responsibility to teach kids how to be respectable members of society both on-and off-line. We are already seeing how social media can not only be used as a vehicle to hurt other people, but can drive people to self-destruction as well. Adult users of social media who post inappropriate pictures and comments can lose careers, career opportunities, college admission, college scholarships, and personal friends.
It could be possible that the solution to cyberbullying isn’t a completely new idea. Students don’t need new social skills to navigate an online environment; they need to take the same morals and ethics they should have in the physical world and apply them online. LifeBound’s book People Smarts for Teenagers gives students the skills to help them learn about themselves and how to socialize with their peers. A socially and emotionally intelligent person has empathy for people, understands social boundaries, and thinks before they act, no matter if they are in a digital or physical forum.