Online Bullying a Growing Problem

By Beacon Staff

While some schools are embracing the use of smart phones and other electronic devices as learning tools in classrooms, the contemporary trend of students using social media to harass and bully peers is a growing problem.

It’s known as “cyberbullying,” an imprecise label for online activities ranging from reams of teasing text messages to sexually harassing group sites and other online public forums like Facebook and Twitter, said Jason Parce, the School Resource Officer at Glacier High School.

The days when “bullying” could be equated to stolen milk money are of a bygone era, and schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, according to Parce, who in his five years at Glacier has seen the phenomenon explode as mobile devices become increasingly ubiquitous among teenagers.

A 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students have been negatively affected.

The study, which surveyed a random sample of 4,441 youth between the ages of 10 and 18 from a large school district in the southern United States, identified mean or hurtful comments and rumors spread online as the most common form of cyberbullying.

Nationwide, suicides have been traced to bullying, underscoring the fragile self-esteem of teenagers and the damaging consequences of mistreatment by peers.

“Usually students will target things that the individual can’t control — their looks, socioeconomic status, social relationships, romantic relationships. That’s especially tough for these kids because their relationships are huge,” Parce said.

Parce said the problem is compounded when it occurs on sites like Facebook, where students air out school drama or slander others in a thread that is then “liked” and commented on.

“They feel like they’re being bullied by the whole school,” he said. “We are noticing that one single Facebook comment can disrupt the educational environment to the point that kids can’t even go into class. They’re missing school and falling behind. Their grades suffer. Their attendance suffers. What kids need to realize is that once they put that out on Facebook, everybody sees that comment.”

He added, “It’s almost as if kids just don’t have any qualms about harming others when there’s no face-to-face interaction. That’s one thing I’ve seen change in the five years since I’ve been here. It’s much harder to say these negative things face to face.”

At Kalispell School District 5, strict policies are in place to curb cyberbullying, and Parce regularly gives presentations to educate students, parents and teachers about the problem, which in some cases has led to criminal charges, he said. Raising awareness about the gravity of cyberbullying will help make students aware of the consequences of their actions.

“They don’t teach you about this stuff in the police academy and they don’t teach you this stuff in the School Resource Office academy. The only reason you are going to know about this is by being in the school,” Parce said.

In some cases, Parce has been in touch with Facebook to have a post or thread removed. He said the social media site has cooperated with his requests.

“Once it’s out there you can’t bring it back. So what we’ve tried to do is get in touch with Facebook and get a quicker response. Usually they will remove it within 24 hours. That’s pretty powerful when Facebook is willing to cooperate with us,” he said.

A negative Facebook comment can be ignored, or students can counter-comment to deflect the original poster’s malicious intent.

But the best remedy for cyberbullying is for peers to stand up for one another.

“A lot of the cyberbullying is stopped by the general student populations” he said. “They will make counter-comments and those get liked, and then nobody is feeding on it and liking the original comment.”

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