Sticks and stones

The evolution of bullying

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Bullying has been a problem for decades but evolved to new lengths thanks to the anonymity and accessibility of social media and the Internet. Cyberbullying is a method in which a student can target someone else through any electronic device by attacking them through text messages, email or social media.

These attacks can include disparaging remarks on a classmate’s photos on Facebook or Twitter, spreading harmful rumors through messaging applications or social media and posting embarrassing pictures.

The reason this type of bullying goes beyond the traditional playground bullying is the attachment children have to their phones. The Childwise Institute, a nonprofit organization that helps children, found in 2015 that kids between the ages of 5 and 16 spent an average of six and a half hours on their phones each day. So while traditional bullying used to end when the school bell rang and the students retreated to the safe haven of their homes, that luxury no longer exists.

“The content an individual shares online – both their personal content as well as any negative, mean, or hurtful content – creates a kind of permanent public record of their views, activities, and behavior,” according to stopbullying.com. “This public record can be thought of as an online reputation, which may be accessible to schools, employers, colleges, clubs and others who may be researching an individual now or in the future.”

Cyberbullying is also surpassing traditional bullying in occurrences. Cyberbullying Research Center found the number of students who reported being cyberbullied at some point in their lives doubled from 18 percent to 34 percent from 2007 to 2016.

Many researchers have connected the prevalence of cyberbullying and the rise of youth suicides in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control found suicide rates for teenagers rose between 2010 and 2015 despite declining two decades prior. That same study suggested use of social media and cyberbullying could be a factor in those rising rates.

While cyberbullying hasn’t reached the epidemic level of youth suicides yet, its presence is felt in the Sealy school system. Sealy High School Principal Megan Oliver said cyberbullying has changed the way faculty have to look at the challenge.

“Social media has made bullying even more complicated and severe because kids often use social media accounts with usernames that are not identifiable to a person to bully other students,” she said. “Kids literally can bully another kid behind the screen at the click of a button.”

The Journal of Adolescent Health found that 40 to 50 percent of cyberbullying victims don’t know who their abuser is. This aspect of cyberbullying makes bullies who use the tactic, more likely to repeat it according to a study by the Pediatrics and Child Health medical journal. This is because “bullies cannot see the reactions of their victims and studies have shown that they feel less remorse. Cyberbullying is opportunistic because it causes harm with no physical interaction, little planning and small chance of being caught.”

Oliver said that the rise of social media has had an effect on the number of bullying cases reported to the school.

“In the past few years, especially in the age of social media, we have noticed a rise in the number of bullying complaints,” she said. “The fact that most students possess cell phones and use social media make bullying so much easier because it’s literally just the click of a button.”

Even if a child isn’t the victim or abuser, a study by the National Association of School Psychologists found that 70 percent of middle and high school students have experienced bullying either as a witness or a victim.

With cyberbullying happening mostly outside of the school hallways, Oliver said a large responsibility to ensuring it doesn’t happen goes to the parents.

“The district is urging parents to stay aware of their child’s social media accounts. Review their phones, text messages, photos, and other social media posts for any inappropriate activity,” she said. “Most parents trust their children; however, it is important for parents to not give kids free reign of their electronic device. Parents need to continually talk to their children about bullying and standing up against bullying by making reports when they are aware of issues.”

Oliver also said the faculty and staff at all levels of Sealy ISD rely heavily on tips and information from students to help keep up with evolving social media. She said it helps the teachers know what the students are talking about and be aware of what is going on with the students’ technology.

Oliver added that if a parent or student wishes to report a bullying incident, online or otherwise, they can contact any campus administrator or campus police officer in a detailed and accurate manner. They can also report it online via the Sealy ISD website.

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