Written by Sgt. Tom Rich, Cyberbully Speaker and Anti-Bullying Expert
In today’s society social media is growing at lightning speed. With the age of the users signing up getting younger and younger, it has made its way into the lives of our youth and is not going away. This being said, it takes the issues of bullying and cyberbullying to a whole new level. The impact that technology has had on our children because they are now always connected, is that they now have become very disconnected with each other.
Starting at a very early age, children become drawn into the use of technology. Most children dive right into using the most popular applications that are out there — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Kik, Snapchat and Tumblr just to name a few — and unfortunately seem to share their entire life story. This practice now makes a child very vulnerable because of the fact that peers now have ammunition to harass, intimidate or bully him.
Anonymous websites or apps make this behavior very easy because the person making the inappropriate comment does not see a direct reaction, nor does he have to take ownership of his words. The impact that these comments have on a child is more than an adult could even imagine. If you try and relate it back to bullying before technology played such a big part, once the comment was made or the pushing and shoving stopped, that was it! Now the comments, tweets, sub tweets, hashtags and anonymous posts live forever and can be viewed 24/7. This poses a major problem when it comes to self-esteem and self-confidence and it is making the number of children who don’t want to attend school anymore sky-rocket.
Christina Monello, the current reigning National American Miss, overcame her experience with cyber harassment but not before she missed 118 classes because she didn’t want to face her peers. She states:
School can be really stressful, but when you add to it hurtful comments over the internet when you have no idea who is saying mean things behind your back… sometimes it can be too overwhelming.
The effects of bullying touch everyone involved. Bullies can often be habitual, repeat offenders in the criminal justice system after leaving school if they have been on record as bullies in the school system. Victims can often lash out and can be linked to acts of aggression, such as school shootings. And bystanders can go either way — those that don’t stand up for their peers harbor feelings of guilt and anxiety, while those who perform acts of courage experience an enhanced sense of confidence that lasts into adulthood.
This issue has become a huge challenge for schools. With mobile devices being the number one most-used instrument of harassment, at all times of day and night, what can schools do to keep their students safe? Teenagers are adept at using the latest online communication tools, but they lack sufficient understanding of relevant ethics and moral standards. Currently there are counselors, HIB specialists, school resources officers, guidance counselors and other “trusted adults” that are on hand to help make a difference and be supportive for our youth. Some schools have added cyber-etiquette classes to their curriculum and/or employ cyber-safety experts to make presentations to their students about online safety and courtesy. These are all effective and necessary tactics. But it’s no secret that today’s youth are often a step ahead of adults when it comes to keeping up with the latest apps and technology changes. The most innovative schools support the students in fighting cyberbullying themselves — it’s the students who are on the forefront, see it daily and know when a cry for help is needed for themselves or a peer.
Our job as adults is to help kids help themselves and to support and counsel those who are struggling. Creating teachable moments and teaching proper settings is crucial in helping to bridge the gap between parents and their children. Pointing out the dangers and pitfalls to our youth and helping them control their digital footprint is essential to protecting their future and exposure to cyberbullying. Now is the time to empower the future (our youth) to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of the people around them… to help make the world a better place!