I was bullied all through middle school. Each day, I climbed onto the bus with dread knotting my stomach, shuffled through the halls with my head down and feared to enter the bathroom without a friend at my side. All I wanted was to become invisible, to get through my day without being noticed.
It wasn’t until I got home and shut the door behind me that the bands of anxiety around my chest loosened and I felt like it was acceptable to be me again.
Today’s students don’t have that refuge — at least, not in the same way I did. Now kids leave school and log in to a social media world where the bullies can follow them home and continue to threaten them, if not physically then certainly emotionally. Switching schools no longer works as a remedy, either. Just ask the family of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedgwick.
In a typical classroom of 30 students, 21 of them will have experienced some form of cyberbullying, according to the Annual Cyberbullying Survey 2013, which included responses from more than 10,000 teens worldwide. Of those 21 students, more than 10 are daily victims. The top venue for bullying: Facebook, which is used by 75 percent of respondents — more than half of whom have been bullied there.
Now that Facebook has loosened its privacy rules for teens, allowing minors to post publicly instead of just to their friends, the door to bullying has gotten a little wider for everyone from “mean girls” to sextortionists.
Cyberbullying takes place in a virtual world, but the physical danger is real. The Associated Press conducted a review of news articles last month and discovered that at least a dozen U.S. suicides over the past three years were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying, although the actual number is probably higher.
Whose Problem Is It?
Cyberbullying has always fallen into a gray area in terms of accountability because it typically occurs outside of school. Yet with more and more schools incorporating mobile devices and social media into their curricula, it’s becoming harder to justify placing responsibility solely on parents.
“Many schools are trying to skirt around it, saying it’s really not our issue, it’s theirs. They want to hand it back to the parents,” said Mike Ribble, a district technology director and author of Digital Citizenship in Schools. “Parents say they don’t know, they don’t understand or they don’t have time to deal with it.
“But if neither the parents nor the school is engaged and involved, then kids really believe, ‘Who cares? I can do what I want,’ because no one wants to take a handle on it until something happens. Then you have a student who commits suicide or an incident that explodes to such an extent that multiple people are involved and somebody has to do something.”
Of course, it’s difficult for schools to teach digital citizenship to kids when many parents are modeling poor online behavior.
“We’ve run into that in our own school district,” Ribble said. “When parents have a complaint, they may not come in and say anything to the school, but they’re very willing to get on Facebook and say something about the school or principal without thinking about what the ramifications will be.”
In the end, he sees it falling back on education to take the lead on teaching digital citizenship to parents and students alike.
“Everybody has to be sending the same message. I don’t think we can say one thing at school and have it contradicted at home and expect it to be effective.”
Oct. 21-25 is Digital Citizenship Week. How would you like to see cyberbullying addressed in schools? Tell us in the comments below!