Bullying goes digital
While the days of verbal taunting and physical violence are not over, today’s adolescents are now battling – and instigating – a new form of harassment known as cyberbullying.
The abuse has shifted from physical to psychological intimidation, with sometimes heartbreaking effects on a person’s self-esteem and confidence.
The most common venues for cyberbullying are social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, all of which allow people to communicate online, often in relative anonymity.
One of the most popular places for perpetrators is a relatively new website called Formspring, which allows people to post questions or comments on a person’s publicly accessible page in total obscurity. The motto for the website is, “Ask Me Anything,” an invitation many take to heart, posting statements, opinions and often insults.
A female-dominated website, virtually any girl with a Formspring account has been called derogatory names, told that they “don’t have any friends” or that they “should just die.”
In light of the tragic number of recent teen suicides due to bullying, comments such as these take on a far more ominous meaning. One freshman girl at SVHS reveals, “I have been called a pig, slut, emo, whore and fat on Formspring.” She went on to admit that she has also been mocked for having a “big nose” and called “pizza face” because of acne. She claims “I only get bullied for my nose now because I got rid of my acne and people realized I wasn’t fat.”
Another girl shared, “Someone hacked my Facebook account and started saying bad stuff, then other people saw it and said mean things about it.”
“A girl wrote that I was a slut on Tumblr,” responded another freshman girl. Several freshman boys reported having been called “gay,” both online and in real life.
However, many students seemed skeptical about the prospect of taking action. One boy claimed, “Kids bully. It’s a part of teen culture.”
When asked about what she thought schools should be doing to alleviate bullying, one freshman girl answered, “Schools have tried a lot of things but none seem to work. So I don’t know.”
Her female peer agreed, saying, “There’s not really much they can do that they haven’t already tried.”
Another simply said, “They don’t deal with it.”
One freshman boy suggested that the school “ be more harsh on racist remarks,” adding “I think this is the biggest problem.”
For what it’s worth, it would seem that school districts along with state government are becoming increasingly involved in efforts to prevent what some have called the “bullying epidemic.” Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed both Assembly Bill 1156, which “adds bullying prevention into school safety plans,” and Assembly Bill 9 (Seth’s Law), which states: “Dedicated to Seth Walsh, one of the many students who chose to take his own life in last year’s rash of teen suicides provoked by bullying …”
AB 9 requires schools to address and act on bullying, and proposes a framework of options for how to do so. But the bill purposefully does not dictate what principals and educators should do with bullies, rather allowing them to explore proven measures that would rehabilitate bullies and solve the core problems in lieu of harsher measures, such as expulsion or suspension, that avoid the underlying issue and can create long term problems in communities.
Ultimately, the state aims to address the root cause of bullying and emphasize that, while the behavior is intolerable, the bully must be aided and accepted as a person rather than simply punished and pushed to the side. Tessie Guillermo, board chair of the California Endowment explains, “... a kid who bullies may be frantically waving a red flag for help and support. He must be accepted even as his behavior is rejected.”
One freshman boy has found a way to avoid cyberbullying simply by “not putting myself in a situation where I could (be cyberbullied).”
But for those who simply can’t go without extensive social networking, it is suggested that they block the perpetrator, and save any hurtful messages to show to a parent or trusted adult who may be able to help.
Above all, it is recommended that students keep in mind the golden rule of online socialization: Don’t put anything online you wouldn’t tell your entire social network in person.