Friday, April 10, 2009
Carlisle parents learn to counter cyberbullying
About 20 parents gathered at the Carlisle School on March 26 for a presentation on cyberbullying by Stephanie Fanning of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State College. Fanning said cyberbullying is occurring on cell phones, email, and web pages and is the fastest growing form of bullying.
The definition of bullying, she said, is repeated negative contact between people of unequal power. Two children arguing face to face is not bullying, she added. Similarly, kids sometimes say negative things about each other, but that does not mean they are bullies. Cyberbullying consists of repeated negative comments communicated via computers or cell phones. Fanning said research shows children or teens, many who may believe they are involved in a harmless joke, become involved in cyberbullying through the actions of another who is a leader. Most victims do not tell an adult.
Bullies are not social outcasts
Fanning explained that while the stereotypical “bully” is usually portrayed as an overbearing, unpopular, mean kid, the majority of kids who bully are popular. She said that kids bully to maintain their social position and power.
By age eight, kids are accessing webpages for research, playing online computer games, sending email, and using cell phones. “Kids live online,” she said. Children are sharing personal information online, not realizing everything they write is permanent and available to millions who are on the Internet. Though it is illegal for kids under 13 to have a Facebook page, many do. Facebook and MySpace are web pages created by the child. They often include detailed personal profiles, and, Fanning said, some kids have included their age and where they live. Both types of web pages allow any individual who is cited as a “friend” to quickly post comments and link photos and videos to the pages. The child who owns the profile page is responsible for anything that appears on the page, whether intended or not.
Others pulled into cyberbullying
One of the biggest problems is “entrapment,” she explained, where kids get others to humiliate the target by starting a blog, or online conversation, about another child. Other kids join in, possibly not knowing they are involved in a bullying situation. Another way a child can be bullied is by having an intimate photo posted on the Internet by someone who thought they were playing a practical joke, she said. “Once it is online, you can’t completely get rid of it,” she said.
In a case in which a student created a fake webpage for a principal, Fanning said, the school did punish the child, arguing that the actions of the student seriously disrupted the school day. However, after the case went to court it was determined that many students had created web pages for that particular principal and the response of the administrators could have been the disruptive factor. The punishment was not upheld in the court, and a countersuit is in progress for damages to the child who was punished (see www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/studentsuspendedforinterne.htm).
Carlisle School response
Elementary Principal Patrice Hurley explained that the administration acts on cases of any type of bullying when they receive a report from parents or peers. They meet separately with the child who has been bullied and the child doing the bullying. “A little child will spill immediately,” she said.
Consequences include an apology and restitution. “We take children at their word” that they feel bullied, she explained. However they also investigate to determine if it is an actual case of bullying.
Middle School Principal Joyce Mehaffey said older students like to “cluster in groups” in the hallways or during lunch. She said the adults keep an eye on the groups of students, listening for issues or concerns. She said cell phones and texting are the biggest problem at the school. If a student is found using a cell phone without permission it is confiscated, she said. “I have a drawer full of phones,” she added. Parent Dan Jacques asked when the phones are returned. Mehaffey said if it is a first or second offense the phones are returned at the end of the day. If it is a third offense the parents must come in to get the phone. “I’d like to know when it is a first offense,”Jacques said.
Superintendent Marie Doyle says there have been incidents of cyberbullying at the school. However, cyberbullying usually occurs outside of school and actions are not punishable within the school environment unless it can be shown that direct interference with the function of the school resulted from the bullying. Reached later by email, Hurley explained, “We have a unit in health classes that addresses cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is also addressed on pages 42-43 of the Policy and Parent Information Handbook under Acceptable Use Policy for The Technology Network And Internet Adopted.” The handbook is available online at www.Carlisle.K12.ma.us.
What can parents do?
Fanning had these suggestions:
• Monitor what kids are doing online.
• Do not let a child younger than 13 have a Facebook or MySpace page. Check older child’s Facebook or MySpace regularly.
• Watch who is using the home computer. Kids often surf the Internet together. Emails coming from the computer are attributed only to their child.
• Check the child’s email.
• Do not give a child younger than 14 a cell phone.
• Turn off text messaging for kids under age 15.
• Check cell phones regularly for intimate photos and videos.
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