Who's Outside the Box

Locations of visitors to this page

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Facing the Virtual Reality of Bullying

Cyberbullying may involve the use of instant messaging (IM), small text messages (SMS), email, chat rooms or bash boards, websites, and voting booths. Because of the anonymity, children are more likely to say things that they would never say face-to-face. There is no escape from this type of bullying because it occurs twenty four hours a day. A victim feels more vulnerable and alone because the emotional damage lasts a lot longer than a black eye.

The story of thirteen year old Alex from Virginia cannot be forgotten. Like other teenagers, Alex spent a lot of time on the computer. Unfortunately, during this time, a group of girls teased and tormented him about his size and physical ability through an instant messaging service. In June 2004, Alex shot himself with his grandfather's gun. This suicide was linked to cyberbullying after searching his computer because all files had been deleted except a note stating, "The only way to get the respect you deserve is to die." How many other students have to die before schools nationwide acknowledge and prevent this form of bullying?

School districts often find themselves caught between their legal and moral obligation to provide a safe environment that promotes learning and their students' constitutional right to freedom of speech and privacy. The popularity of social networking is rapidly increasing. Myspace.com currently has more than one hundred million members and similar sites are continuously popping up. This makes one point very clear: this issue is not going away. What can we do as school psychologists to prevent cyberbullying in schools and homes without infringing on the student's constitutional rights?

This Blog was created by Katie Blades.


christen s. said...

It is clear that denigrating others is the result of low self-esteem. Therefore, it seems to me that it is not necessarily the cyber-bullying per say that must be targeted, rather the cause of the action which, in this case, is self-esteem. This may be solved through an increase in group counseling, which provides psycho-education in a fun way that children can understand. Moreover, peer groups should not only educate but facilitate peer relations in a positive way. The savvy school psychologist should be able to bridge peers through their interests, hobbies, and commonalities, thus decreasing the need to form hate group as a way to relate to one’s peers. Moreover, an increase in peer relations and interactions created by such groups will decrease self-esteem. Let’s face it, the worst thing to a child is being without a best-friend or being seen as “un-cool” by one’s peers. Therefore, the mere presence of peer companionship may be enough for some children to bolster self-esteem and confidence

vincent said...

I'm a firm believer that what goes on in school is the schools responsibility and what happens at home should be left up to parents or guardians. In the case of cyber-bullying, it's a little more difficult to draw that line because students have internet access in school as well as at home. You're really only a few clicks away from making an issue at home into a school problem if students access sites during a computers class for example. It's very difficult to make teasing a student outside of school become relevant in school but in this particular case it becomes both parties problem. I think that more collaborative efforts need to be made to have the school and parents on the same page. I would imagine that some parents, even some teachers as well, are unaware that this is even going on. Maybe workshops for teachers and parents or even bringing up the issue at events such as parent-teacher conferences or back to school night would help get the word out that this goes on and is unacceptable. I think that cyber-bullying puts an interesting twist on bullying in general because you have hard evidence that inappropriate behavior is occurring. It's harder to bring an issue like verbally teasing someone after school into the school and make it the school's responsibility, especially when it can just become a he said she said type of argument. Here parents have typed proof to make the case that they are fearful of their children's well-being when at school, which makes it more difficult for principals to ignore.

Anonymous said...

And when are we "allowed" to stop working and parents start parenting? I'm not sure that I signed up for a 24-hour-a-day job. This kind of stuff stresses me out. Are we suppose to save the world from itself? I know that we make a difference, but give me a break...we're not God!

judy said...

Bullying is a subject near and dear to my heart. I was severely bullied during grammar school, fourth grade through sixth grade. Bullies telling their target he/she needs to die does NOT surprise me. Believe me, I’ve heard it all. I’m lucky that technology was not what it is now. The bullying at school was hard enough. I CAN imagine what it would be like for the torment to carry on outside of school via computer and texting. Sadly, people committing suicide due to bullying does not surprise me.
So, what to do? I think two things. First, sensitivity training beginning at an early age. I don’t mean happy rainbows and puppies classroom posters saying “use your manners”. Rather a structured, intense, effort, incorporating, of course, technology, and using developmentally appropriate hands on activities. Second, and possibly more important, educating parents. Parents who can’t outsmart their kids in order to keep them “cyber-safe” frighten me. They need to learn. It’s that simple. School psychologists can take on both of these tasks. j

Courtney said...

In this vast age of technological advancements it is impossible to police all sites, every minute, of every day. As School Psychologist we have to ensure that our students remain protected in all forums to the best of our capabilities. This needs to start (at the very least) with a school-wide/district-wide Zero Tolerance Policy. I think inappropriate use of the internet that occurs at home...IS our problem because it does spill over to school time. Additionally, a clause needs to be added to the code of conduct that parents and students sign indicating that they have read and agree to the zero tolerance policy and the consequences of any violations. We talk about being psychologist whom think outside of the box....well the internet is only visually projected into a box-like screen. It's boundaries stretch the world over. We need to consider how taking a light stance to this issue will impact those we strive to help. I wonder how we can think outside this vast box...

Rosa said...

There is a common theme throughout many of our thoughts on bullying, whether it is through the internet, face-to-face, or whatever is next. That is, as adults we know it is wrong and even cruel. It may have happened to us (like Judy still remembers) or maybe we did it someone else and we are ashamed to admit it or don't even remember doing it. Unfortunately, I believe bullying is part of human nature and it will happen if it is not prevented. I strongly agree with Courtney, we need to make sure that our policies reflect our thoughts on this subject. Simply, it is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The last part of Vinny’s post on evidence made me think of a system of law! I think it would really be cool to have students serve on judiciary committees where they will along side the principal and other school officials determine what the punishment should be to students found violating the zero-tolerance policy. Only repeat offenders who appear before the judiciary committee will risk expulsion because the purpose is to ameliorate the bully. I think this will send out a message to kids from kids that it isn't acceptable and will not be tolerated. I also believe it will empower students to think outside their own boxes and apply a system of justice based on those kindergarten principles. Now if only I had a school to test this idea! I hope this will add to Christen and Judy’s plans on teaching kids how to think more humanely.
As to anonymous, it is your responsibility to make sure your students are in an environment that fosters learning...if learning can not happen because a kid feels embarrassed to come to school or afraid, then you are not doing your job. Thus, your job needs to happen with or without parents help. How does the saying go, “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.” If you choose this field, you become that someone.

Katie said...

I'm glad to see that no one so far has mentioned blocking or banding internet sites in schools. While researching this topic, I discovered that many schools response to cyberbullying was to add firewall software to prevent students from accessing social networking sites while at school. I believe this response just ignores the probem and allows it to escalade.

Any thoughts about adding the use of social networking sites to the student's curriculum? For example requiring all teachers to add a technology piece to their course requirements, allowing students to use social networking sites, and showing them how to use these sites appropriately?

judy said...

i think that as technology becomes more and more infused with instruction at earlier and earlier ages, it would be very wise to teach students how to control themselves and really think while using the internet. children need to be taught early on that their cyber use can and will affect real people. i think we would all agree that taking away internet use and/or social networking sites would just make them more attractive and set the stage for abuse.
i was thinking about the anonymous post, and rosa summed it up = we have a duty to protect. period. everyone knows that an educator's responsibility goes beyond the classroom. if one is not willing to take this responsibility seriously, it may be time to consider another career. always ask yourself - how would you want your own child treated?? j

christen s. said...

I agree with anonymous in the fact that we are not god nor should we be working 34 hours a day...HOWEVER, we are the experts in this area.. working with children, studying behavioral patterns is the primary focus of our reading materials, conversations, etc....so why not help? How many times did you suggest a simple technique to help a parent with their child and their respose is, "...I can't believe that I didn't think of that..."

Well the truth is, most of them can't! It is the professionals who can appropriately intervene.

What would have happened if the playgroung teacher turned his or her back to you when the class bully was pulling your pigtail on the playground?

Isn't this the same thing?

mikec said...

Check out this link. http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/05/15/internet.suicide.ap/index.html

what does this say about the status of people, not just students, today. Perhaps there could be district wide programs developed to increase awareness of the pitfalls of online contact with others including cyberbulling and online pedophiles. Things such as maintaining privacy and not giving out personal information could be stressed as well as the possible consequences for such egregious acts (although online laws seem to still be not clearly defined at the state and federal level). There could be school group counseling sessions that are based somewhat online where positive posts, discussion, and feedback are submitted online that accompany face to face sessions. Role playing may be another way to attack this issue. Students play the role of the bully and the bullied and then discuss their thoughts on the experience.