By Meredith Frey, Carole Gilfedder, Bryan Knipfing, and Lisa Rankin
Why do people have a need or desire to act superior to others? This desire is usually driven by a subconscious need to make ourselves feel more important and generally displays weakness in our own character. It has found its way into our families, school yards, and even places of work. There are many definitions that can be used for this unpleasant and unwarranted behavior but the one that best suits the purpose of this article is: “the intimidation of a weaker person: the process of intimidating or mistreating someone weaker or in a more vulnerable situation”. Bullying has been a long standing “tradition” in society but it has spiraled into more danger than we once believed. Recent bullying statistics show that half of all traditional bullying incidents go unreported. Statistics regarding cyberbullying indicate even less of these type are reported. Traditionally, a schoolyard bully is the child who is the biggest, strongest, and stereotypically the meanest. The ability to intimidate others out of toys, friends, and of course lunch money belonged to the ill mannered boy or girl that could most easily intimidate the other children. A cyberbully on the other hand can remain nameless through technology. This means that the general character of the intimidator no longer needs to be the biggest or the meanest because behind a screen name or a blog no one can truly depict who the initiator is. This makes cyberbullying more of a threat because more students can participate without the fear of retaliation.
Today, more than any other school safety problem, bullying affects students’ sense of security. Once thought of as a relatively harmless behavior that helps to build young people’s character, bullying is now known to have long-lasting harmful effects, for both the victim and the bully. In a study of 210 college students, University of Florida researchers discovered a link between what psychologists call relational victimization in adolescence and depression and anxiety in early adulthood. Being victimized by someone you know can lead a child to suffer from angst and apprehension throughout their life.
Cyberbullying is said to be far worse than traditional bullying mainly because of the speed and reach of today’s technology. In the past, bullying was done through aggressive behavior, such as hitting, spitting, kicking, and physically harming the victim. Verbal abuse like name calling, teasing, sarcastic remarks, and ridiculing was a common method of bullying. Both were generally repeated quite often and without the victim doing anything to provoke the offender.
Many kids utilize instant messaging and email as a means of harassment when they “ping” enemies with profanities and violent threats using fake screen names. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc., creates a means for posting embarrassing photos, comments, and hosting mean spirited online polls. Experts believe that they will soon overtake chat rooms as the top source of cyberbullying problems worldwide. A common act of cyberbullying can be altering photos of a victim in a detrimental way, which is easily accomplished with photo editing software available to everyone. Often cell phones cameras are used to take risqué photos unbeknownst to the victim. These photos are then posted online available for the world to view. Blogs, created anonymously, often encourage others to posts intimidations and threats with little accountability on the bully. Recent bullying statistics show that half of all traditional bullying incidents go unreported. Statistics regarding cyberbullying indicate even less of these type are reported.
There are some disturbing statistics about cyberbullying that demonstrate how widespread this trend is becoming. Unfortunately, no place is safe from cyberbullying, however, there are some areas where it is worse than others. School bullying statistics and cyberbullying statistics in 2007 say that the five worst states to be bullied in grades K thru 12 were, in ascending order, Washington, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, and California.
Cyberbullying is an issue that affects many students and a topic that all teachers must directly confront. Primarily, it is important for teachers to understand the profile of the bully and victim. Bullies have a high level of perceived respect from adults and peers alike and “tend to be at the top of the school social hierarchy.” On the other hand, victims of bullying, regardless of whether it occurs in school or on the Internet, are more likely to have social anxiety and distress.
Knowing this, teachers must become aware of the bullying that takes place between students, regardless of the fact that some of it may take place outside of school. Even bullying that takes place over the Internet still has an impact on the classroom environment and students’ learning. First, it is essential for teachers to do their best to prevent cyberbullying. Teachers must create an atmosphere of mutual respect, where all students’ characteristics and dignity are honored and valued. Also, teachers must face the issue of bullying head-on and allow for discussions regarding the negative effects of bullying. Finally, it may be helpful for all educators to create a school-wide character education and peer-mediation program where values such as cooperation and tolerance are strengthened.
Lessons plans can be developed to allow students to identify different types of bullying and to engage in role playing situations in which bullying may occur and how to avoid or confront cyber bullying. Also, according to http://www.how-to-stop-bullying.com, lesson plans should be developed to help students build social skills, such as expressing how they feel in certain situations and how to compromise with other people.
As an educator, how do YOU combat such harassment among your students in this technological society?
Juvonen, Jaana & Gross, Elisheva F. (2008). Extending the School Grounds?-Bullying Expereinces in Cyberspace [Electronic Version]. The Journal of School Health, 78(9), 496-505.
Langdon, Susan W. & Prebele, William. (2008). The Relationship between Levels of Perceived Respect and Bullying in 5th through 12th Graders [Electronic Version]. Adolescence, 43(1), 485-503.