Bullying in the Digital Age

By Rachel Martin

March 19, 2012 Updated Oct 21, 2013 at 9:54 AM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Southwest Allen County Schools held a cyber bullying and digital citizenship forum for parents, students and staff on how to keep students safe and free from making social media mistakes.

According to Homestead High School’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), 15 percent of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of bullying. These days, bullying happens outside of school, on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Forum coordinators say studies show that students feel more comfortable saying things over the internet instead of in person—which, they say, can be a problem.

Monday night, SACS’ anti-bullying task force hosted a panel of community and school leaders, ranging from a child and adolescent psychologist and Allen County Prosecuting Attorney, to the assistant principal and technology coordinator. They spoke about digital citizenship, the concept of how to use technology appropriately.

“Social media and being online is a great part of our lives,” said Anita Gross, Social Worker for SACS. “It’s a very positive thing, but anything that’s positive can also be negative. So we just need to teach our students and teach our adults to be very smart about it.”

With the growing number of social media sites every year, cyber bullying has become more prevalent—and not just among students. SADD representatives say over 50 percent of adults have reported bullying from their homes, work place and community.

So, what can you do to protect yourself and your student? The panelists say parent involvement is the key. “I think parents have a responsibility to monitor what their children do with the computer,” said Karen Richards, Allen County Prosecuting Attorney. “And in cases where children have done things they shouldn’t of, there should’ve been more parental oversight.”

Here are some tips:

• Get familiar with social media websites and create you own accounts. This will help aid in monitoring your child’s activity and who they are socializing with. If your child doesn’t know someone personally, they don’t need to “follow” or “friend” them.
• Keep the computer in a common area of the house.
• Ask questions and set ground rules. Let you child know what is expected and there will be consequences if they don’t follow the rules.
• Do not share personal information. Do not post your address, phone number, email address or full name on your profile.
• If something looks disturbing or makes you or your child uncomfortable, report it to the school or to authorities.

SACS officials say most school districts, including theirs, have anti-bullying policies, but currently there are no laws against cyber bullying. Richards compared cyber bullying to K-2 Spice and bath salts, saying it’s hard for law makers to keep up and regulate the issue.

“This is an area where we are still catching up legally with technology that is running much faster than we can anticipate,” she said.

Richards says cyber bullying happens most often in a school setting. In those cases, the people involved are juveniles and face lighter penalties like probation or community service, but it can affect their school career and whether they get into college. Adults, however, could face misdemeanor or felony charges, but very rarely serve jail time.

“There’s not a law per se that defines or makes bullying or cyber bullying illegal,” said Richards. “Instead when we’re looking at that sort of thing, we’re falling back on other statues, harassment, threat, intimidation, which seem to work but don’t exactly address the issue.”

Other than avoiding using social media all together, Richards says the best way to protect yourself online is to think before you click.

“My general advice to people is if you're not going to stand on a street corner, stand in church, stand in front of the school, or stand in front of your family and say whatever it is you're putting on the internet or show whatever it is you're showing on the internet, then you probably shouldn't put it there,” Richards said.




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