Though bullying is an old practice, it’s constantly evolving with the advent of technology and social media in the form of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the posting of “mean-spirited messages about a person (such as a student) often done anonymously” on electronic platforms, such as the internet. With technology such as the internet and text messaging, Carmen Irving, special projects coordinator at the Union County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said, because the form of bullying has changed, it’s now easier to bully.
“In general, whether we’re talking about cyberbullying or bullying, it still boils down to the same issues,” Irving said. “In most cases, bullying is not personal. It’s really helping the victim of bullying to take back their personal power.”
Irving said a lot of bullying help that’s provided through outlets like Maryhaven involves teaching kids about improving their resilience and not giving power to a bully’s words. She said these the practices used for helping children deal with bullying in real life are also used for victims of cyberbullying.
One of those helping out with bullying and cyberbullying in the schools is Ryan Spaulding, a senior at Marysville Early College High School. In September, he created a local chapter of a national student-led organization called Youth Moves, which helps to intervene in cases of bullying. He said his future plans include creating support groups to mediate students on issues like anxiety and depression.
“The reason this whole thing got started was because of a whole bullying and mental health issue problem I had last year,” he said. “There were a lot of rumors going around of how I was stalking my ex-girlfriend. It seemed a lot of people believed that and turned against me. I did try to confront several people to explain my whole story, but nothing seemed to be working.”
Due to the rumors spread in his junior year, Spaulding attempted suicide by overdosing on an antidepressant called Elavil. When he recovered from it, he met with some teachers to talk about this kind of bullying, which later led to the creation of the school-sponsored chapter of Youth Moves.
“This whole project got started because I know what it feels like, and I know how far kids can take it,” he said. “I didn’t want kids to go through that alone.”
He said alleged bullies can sometimes not end up as bullies, but rather a bad circumstance of misconception. He said he and others in the movement will often pick out a person in “one-on-one involvement” to help correct their behavior, whether they had good or bad intentions.
However, he said a lot of the harassment he helps mediate happens through real life and social media, with the latter being more difficult to deal with beyond what they can do: tell them to stop via a text message.
He said a good example of how difficult it was to intervene with online harassment involved an inflamed Twitter argument that happened this summer with other school members. He said, to try and curb this, he would try to invite them to speak to Youth Moves and try to resolve the conflict. It was difficult for this situation, however, because it happened during summer vacation.
“I don’t necessarily know how we’re going to try and fight (cyberbullying),” he said. “We will be talking to our teachers and letting them know this is something that’s happening more often when we aren’t seeing certain people as much.”
He said he’ll be working with teachers to encourage them to get the word out about the ever-changing threat of cyberbullying. He said he hopes it’ll be then passed on to the parents.
Despite trying to get the word out, it’s not that easy to address the issue of cyberbullying. Fairbanks High School Principal Tom Montgomery said cyberbullying is usually something that happens outside of school, which makes it hard to intervene.
“(Cyberbullying) has changed the dynamic of bullying, unfortunately, and increased it,” he said. “I think it’s harder to track it now, both inside and outside of school.”
Students at the schools sign an electronics consent form that punishes them for cyberbullying. He said cases where a school computer or a personal device is used to cyberbully on school grounds, they can be handled by the school. However, outside of the school, it becomes a “vague and gray area.”
“It’s something we counsel parents on about, and if it’s happening outside of school, we contact authorities and file a report of being harassed over the internet as an out-of-school thing,” he said. “We advise parent to file harassment report with sheriff’s department. It’s up to the parents to do that.”
In order to teach children about ethical internet use and the dangers of cyberbullying, Montgomery and Fairbanks Middle School Principal Joey Newell said they’ve implemented a program last spring called Common Sense Media.
“You have to combat it with the proactive discussions we have, teachers being mentors and talk them through these situations within the curriculum,” Newell said. “I feel like, with the digital curriculum we picked up last year, it gives the teacher the opportunity to have these discussions in class and help better prepare kids on how to act and react to those devices.”
Newell said it’s their job to “protect the educational environment,” so they try to intervene as much as they can. With physical instance of bullying being easier to trace, he said cyberbullying is an anonymous threat they’re dealing with that is affecting a generation of children who are constantly on their devices.
The Journal-Tribune tried repeatedly to contact officials at Marysville High School for comment, but they did not respond by press time.
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