I just want to say a special thank you to Kim at Macomb Heating and Cooling for submitting this wonderful article on Cyber Bullying. Kim initially received this from Amber who really did her homework on this matter, thank you both for an eye-opening topic which can affect us all!

Sticks & Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  How many times has this been said to a hurting child in an attempt to make things better, but in reality, it only makes things worse.  One in three teenagers experiences some sort of physical threat from cyberbullying in their teenage years. This is something we need to care about. (Cyberbullying Statistics 1)  Cyberbullying is that – only words.  Yet the damage that it inflicts can be, in extreme cases, life ending.  And sadly, this is a common occurrence in the world we live in today.

We hear about cyberbullying all the time on the news and in the paper. The fact remains, we are often not hearing about how to prevent it until it is too late for a teenager somewhere. Bullying, with the aid of technology, social media, and parents, has intensified in the extent of damage it may cause; and, sadly our laws are not adequate in legally addressing the dynamics of cyberbullying.

In his suicide letter, found after the terrible school shooting at Columbine High:

School on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris wrote, “Parents and teachers, you f***** up.  You have taught these kids to not accept what is different.  YOU ARE IN THE WRONG.  I have taken their lives, and my own – but it was your doing.  Teachers, parents, LET THIS MASSACRE BE ON YOUR SHOULDERS UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE.” (Klein 127)  The argument is in no way being made that Eric Harris is not responsible for his actions on that terrible day of the massacre.  However, his letter does raise the question of what responsibility adults have to oversee and prevent bullying.

“Cyberbullying occurs when a person uses IT to embarrass, harass, intimidate, threaten, or otherwise cause harm to individuals targeted for such abuse.  Cyberbullying amounts to a technological extension of physical bullying that has traditionally been carried out face to face or indirectly over the telephone or through typed or handwritten messages. “(Robin, Limber and Agatston 2) Before cyberbullying became so prevalent an adolescent could go home to avoid the bullying, at least for a short time.

Now with computers, cell phones, and social media, it enters the home and is inescapable.   It also is no longer limited to a group of kids.  Now it is on the world -wide web for all to see, and potentially to remain indefinitely.  This could affect college and job applications, along with future relationships. Cyberbullying can be overwhelming, and for someone who is already experiencing depression, it can seem hopeless.

According to bullyingstatics.org, over 50% of adolescents and teens have been victims of cyberbullying, and about the same amount have engaged in cyberbullying themselves.  More than 1 in 3 students have been threatened online, and 1 in 4 teens have been bullied through their cell phones.  This problem is wide-spread and unless aggressively addressed, will only get worse.  In her article, “Parents put kids at risk of Cyber Bullying”, Sheradyn Holderhead states that “Parents are signing their children up at 10, 11, 12, so they can be part of that social mechanism.”

The case of Megan Meier is a perfect example of a situation with the worst possible outcome.  Megan was 13 and lived in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri when she committed suicide, driven there in large part by a boy who she had befriended on MySpace, Josh Evans.   She had already been called derogatory names on MySpace, so when Josh reached out to her in a positive way she quickly responded.  He was nice to her for about a month, and then he became mean and told her he hated her.  Other girls joined in on the name-calling and Megan decided it was no longer worth it and hung herself in her bedroom.

After her suicide, it was discovered that Josh Evans profile was actually created by Lori Drew, the mother of a girl who lived 4 doors away and a 19-year old male friend.  Sadly, at the time of Megan’s death, there were no laws in Missouri directed against cyber-bullying, so no charges were filed.  Due in large part to Megan’s family rallying to make cyberbullying illegal, Lori Drew was eventually convicted of 3 counts of accessing a computer without authorization.  The one positive thing that has come out of this tragedy is the first national cyberbullying crime legislation, the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act. (Robin, Limber and Agatston 5)

One method of attempting to control cyberbullying, which is gaining momentum worldwide, is to hold parents monetarily responsible for their children when they do commit cyber-bullying.  “Parents whose children bully classmates using text messages or the internet face 1,000-pound fines.  The Government is cracking down on ‘cyber bullies’ who use mobile phones, email, and social networking websites to threaten or torment fellow pupils.

Ministers want schools to make greater use of parenting orders, under which fines of up to 1,000 pounds can be imposed on mothers and fathers who fail to rein in bullying children.” (Clark 1)  In Monona, Wisconsin, an ordinance was passed to find the parents of children who bully $114.  (Patchin 1)  Justin Patchin goes on to state, “Parental liability laws hold parents accountable, and financially liable, for the behavior of their children when it is deemed that the parents were negligent in their obligation to provide proper parental care and supervision.  In theory, these laws make a lot of sense:  the idea is to compel parents to make sure their kids aren’t behaving in a reckless or delinquent manner. School law states that educators can be held liable for damages when they are found to have been deliberately indifferent to harassment that happens at schools.  Maybe it makes sense to hold parents to the same standard.”  (Robin, Limber, and Agatston 1-2)

Communities around the country, like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are also addressing the problem of cyberbullying.   On February 23, 2013, the Human Rights Campaign South Florida along with Broward County School System, Sunrise Middle School, and multiple community organizations hosted an anti-bullying summit, “to educate students, parents, and faculty on recognizing the signs of bullying and developing a system of intervention.  We must make it clear that bullying in any shape or form will not be tolerated.”(Hastings 10)

Sometimes parents believe that turning the other cheek to their child’s wrong behavior will somehow strengthen their relationship. They believe that if they were to punish or accuse their child of their wrongdoing it would alter their relationship in a negative way. In the article “Holding Parents Responsible for Their Child’s Bullying” Justin Patchin states, “The concern is threatening to punish a parent for the behavior of the child may serve to further weaken this relationship. Parent and child are pitted against one another when the child misbehaves…” (2) Regardless of the relationship is “strong” or “weak” in the parent’s eyes, acting as if you do not know the crime is going on is essentially acknowledging that they are okay with it. And if a child’s parents are okay with it, then that child will think everyone is okay with it.

The statistics speak volumes on the extent of cyberbullying occurrences.  “The 2004 Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) ‘Survey of Computer Use and Ethics’ found that among 873 college students randomly surveyed, 17% were harassed, 8% were threatened and 6% were stalked on-line within the preceding year.” (McQuade, Colt and Meyer 175)

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