By Reginald Corbitt, SafeCyber
Cyberbullying continues to grow and present itself as a huge challenge for schools, government policy makers, stakeholders, parents and the community.
Cyberbullying is not to be separated from bullying. Both behaviors are about relationship power and control. In using a technological device, you have harassment that happens online, usually via email, text, an online game or a social media platform. Cyberbullying can be labeled as “relational bullying;” therefore, it requires a relationship management based type of approach in dealing with its impact and prevention.
Relational Bullying (or Relational Aggression) is a form of bullying that was common amongst youth and more so among girls. It involved social manipulation such as group exclusion, spreading rumors, sharing secrets, and recruiting others to dislike a person. Relational bullying can be used as a tool by bullies to both improve their social standing and control others. Sounds like the 2016 election campaign to me.
Bullying is getting more attention now than a few years ago, as laws and policies have been created because of it. Government agencies have created departments to address it. To raise awareness even more, October has been deemed National Bullying Awareness Month. The National Education Association has said the “Trump Effect” is the reason for increased bullying and harassment against certain students. Some are lobbying for it to be recognized as a serious health issue. A research center was founded to study its patterns and keep up with its growth. Lives have unfortunately come to an end because of it. Adding to this critical issue are apps that offer anonymity, so people feel as though they can say whatever they want without being held accountable because they can’t be traced by law enforcement.
Such was the case recently where a fake profile was created for a Texas high school senior as if she were using the app to solicit sex. She had been bullied for months and her life ended after sending her family a text message. Her parents rushed home to find her holding a gun to her chest. After pleading with her to drop the gun, she chose to end her life. As the father of a teenage daughter who inspired me to create SafeCyber, my heart is saddened by what this father had to endure as his daughter’s last moments. What’s even more heartbreaking is that she appeared to have done everything right. She told her father about the bullying incidents. She told the police, but because the app was one of anonymity, they could not trace the bully or bullies. She had been bullied for years offline about her weight before the harassment started online. What more could have been done? We may never know the answer; however, this issue needs to be addressed within a broader social context and a range of developed and taught skills.
Teaching social and emotional resilience in schools and communities will have a greater effect than policy regulation or legislation in dealing with cyberbullying. Children should be taught a range of social and emotional skills early in school so that it will assist them in dealing with these issues. Skills like pro-social values, emotional skills, social skills and high-order thinking skills would better equip them should they be the victim of this unwanted behavior. Scholars also need to be involved in the creation of materials or resources, promotion of socially acceptable behavior and front runners in raising awareness. Lack of knowledge creates gaps, and allowing them to be part of the solution will enhance their knowledge, skill, and ability to prevent and intervene in bullying situations sooner rather than later.
Platforms that allow for open discussions about what users do online and offline are also needed. Educating every area of our communities is just as important as the young people within them. If school is about preparing children for life, then digital literacy topics like Cyberbullying should be no exception. Dr. William Blake, Principal of Stephan Decatur Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, says he and his administration spends 85% of their time dealing with conflicts between their students that began on social media or text messages. He says that by educating and raising awareness and forming partnerships with school, family and community organizations like SafeCyber that educates communities on topics such as cyberbullying, that number will begin to drop. Cyber safety is essential for all young people and needs to be embedded into the curriculum. Student-driven programs are effective in encouraging positive relationships and open discussions about what occurs online and offline.
Cyberbullying crosses all domains and knows no geographical boundaries. It commonly occurs outside of school and can manifest itself 24/7. The ethical and legal issues regarding cyberbullying provide concern for teachers, schools and parents as there is limited clarity on the implications of cyberbullying as itis about behavior, not a technology issue. Initiatives and programs which focus on the enhancement of positive relationships and the development of behavioral skills are more effective in dealing with the impacts of cyberbullying.
When conducting my Digital Age Parenting classes, one of the things I share with parents is information about how their child is using a device to say and do things to hurt someone or put themselves in danger. However, the device is only facilitating the interaction between the person and the situation. Dr. Satira S. Streeter, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and Executive Director of Ascensions Psychological and Community Services, says, “Parents shouldn’t leave the internet as an open forum to influence and impact their children or for them to influence and impact each other by cyberbullying. More focus should be on the behavior, rather than the technology use.” Cyberbullying indeed, has the same long-term effects as offline bullying such as, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and possible suicide.
The internet holds a wealth of knowledge and is a great place for people of all ages to express themselves, meet like-minded people, be creative. Focusing on technology alone, grounding children from using it at home, expelling children from school because of its misuse, and tougher laws are not the answers. Initiatives and programs that promote positive relationships and the development of behavioral skills are more effective in dealing with the issue of cyberbullying. Our future First Lady plans to address cyberbullying against kids and I am looking forward to reviewing her plan on how that is to be accomplished. On the other hand, she stated that adults “can handle mean words.” Well, our children will “do what you do” quicker than they will “ do what you say.”
Human behavior is learned.
About Reginald Corbett
Reginald Corbett is the founder of SafeCyber, whose mission is to educate and promote cyber awareness to schools, community organizations, parents and care takers of youth. The organization provides actionable information that's easy to understand along with tools and resources needed to stay safe and secure while living in the "Internet of Things" age. He travels state to state raising awareness about cyber safety topics such as Cyberbullying, Dangers of Social Media Apps, Online Predators of Children, and Digital Footprint and Reputation. He is the author of the soon to be released book, “Protecting our Children in the Digital Age,” where he discusses how parents can protect their children by sharing his own experience with his teenage daughter. He also focuses on how technology can influence the behavior of youth and put their safety at risk while being constantly hyper-connected. SafeCyber is a proud partner of STOP. THINK. CONNECT., the global cyber security education and awareness campaign led by the National Cyber Security Alliance and in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security. Reginald can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.851.5795.