Gone are the days of hurling verbal insults during recess or lunch. Technology has changed the platform of youth and teenage hostility allowing children to send mean messages any time of the day through texts and apps. Cyberbullying is a word that was only added to our vocabulary in 2000, meaning this problem did not exist when the parents of today's youth were growing up. Given cyberbullying's recent and quick entrance into the media limelight, it's important that parents be well informed on how to handle this dangerous threat to their child's wellbeing.
Last week, Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old victim of cyberbullying, committed suicide because the online taunts of former friends became too much to bear1. Despite switching school to avoid seeing the bullies in person, Rebecca continued to receive threatening messages through social media apps. Although her mother tried to monitor her social media presence when the bullying began in 2012, Rebecca received terrorizing messages in apps that her mother did not know existed. Sadly, the interventions in place were not enough to keep Rebecca from taking her own life.
The ever-evolving means of communication make it difficult for parents to regulate their child's technology usage. Websites such as samepoint.com, socialmention.com, and hashtag.org allow anyone to investigate a user's twitter or instagram posting history. Other less well-known apps such as ask.fm, Kik, and Voxer do not have monitoring capabilities making it impossible for a parent to see posted messages without logging into their child's account.
The U.S. Government warns that parents should be aware that cyberbullying must be handled differently than in-person bullying2. Parents should establish technology usage rules and reassure their children that they won't take away devices if they confide problems that they are having. Also, parents should discuss with their children that anything posted on social media can be forwarded to others and encourage children to consider the repercussions of their words before publicly posting anything. If a parent does find evidence of cyberbullying, they should print records of the instances and report it to the school.
Ohio Revised Code § 3313.666 (2007) requires every school district to have a harassment, intimidation, and bullying policy that addresses:
"electronic act"meaning an act committed through the use of a cellular telephone, computer, pager, personal communication device, or other electronic communication device." 4
The Ohio Board of Education provides a model policy to help guide schools in developing their own policy. Most states have enacted similar laws to handle the serious problems causes by cyberbullying and in hopes that future suicides may be prevented.
Some schools have gone so far as to monitor their student's social media accounts themselves. An L.A. area school district hired a company to monitor their student's social media sites and alert the school of any potentially harmful findings4. However, this company is limited to monitoring those accounts with public settings and cannot see postings with privacy settings. Some critics call the program an invasion of privacy but the district maintains it is a necessary precaution to protect their students following two cyberbullying-related suicides in the district last year.
Police in Rebecca's hometown are investigating the online threats made by the middle school girls in relation to her death. Cyberbullying laws exist in Florida such that the girls may face legal ramifications for their actions. Perhaps making an example of these girls will show children everywhere that cyberbullying is a serious offense that endangers lives of others and has legal consequences.
By Abby Johnston
1. Alvarez, L. (2013, September 14).Girl's Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies. New York Times, p. A1. Retrieved September 16, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Home | StopBullying.gov. [online] Retrieved from: http://stopbullying.gov [Accessed: 17 Sep 2013].
3. 33 Ohio Rev. Code. § 3313.666 (2007), available at http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3313.666
4. Ceasar, S. (2013, September 14) Glendale district says social media monitoring is for student safety. LA Times. Retrieved September 16, 2013, from http://www.latimes.com.