Covid-19 and Cyberbullying

Covid-19 and Cyberbullying

As an Executive Director for a bullying advocacy and recovery charity, I have read article after article about the increase in cyberbullying.  As our children switched their schooling to exclusively online learning, the bullying left the schoolyards and became more rampant on their screens.  With autumn approaching and much uncertainty about schooling as our country is still weathering the pandemic, cyberbullying needs to be addressed.

Cyberbullying is defined as: “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”  It can include name calling, abusive comments, spreading rumors, threats of physical harm, being ignored or excluded, having opinions slammed, online impersonation, being sent rude or upsetting images, or having personal information or images sent or shared with others.  This type of bullying does not have a time out.  It does not end when the school day is complete and furthermore, the impacts can be devastating.

Any bullying by its very nature involves two things: intent of harm and an imbalance of power.  Cyberbullying is not limited to just our children.  Open up almost any social media platform, blog or news article and there is a litany of responses from adults.  Opinions shared by adults are quite often abusive, demeaning and unkind.  How can we expect more from our children?  Social media is not the problem, it lies in human behavior and acceptable communication.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, almost 40% of all middle-school and high-school students have experienced cyberbullying.  Currently, 95% of US teens are online.  Taking cyberbullying seriously has been an uphill battle when compared to traditional bullying.  Some people feel that there are more serious acts of aggression and bullying to focus attention on.  Cyberbullying if ignored will only get worse. The fact is that cyberbullying can be just as or more devastating for the target for the following reasons:

  • The victim may not know who is targeting them or why
  • The information may go viral where a large number of people can see and participate in it very quickly
  • It is often easier for the aggressor to be more cruel hiding behind technology
  • Many adults don’t have the technological know-how or time to accurately keep track of their child’s online activity

So, parents, what can we do if we learn that our child is a target of a cyberbully?  The first and most important thing we can do for a child who is a target of any bullying is to make them feel safe and offer unconditional support.  It is important to not be dismissive and to validate their feelings and perspective.  A rational, logical approach with your child is imperative and will build trust as you talk about next steps together.  Meeting with the school administrator (if applicable) is a logical next step.  Capturing any evidence either by screen shots, photos or working with an ISP, cell phone service or content provider may also become necessary.  The police should be contacted when physical threats are involved or a crime has been committed (extortion, stalking, blackmail or sexual exploitation). Parents need to educate their kids about appropriate online behaviors and monitor online activity especially when children are starting their journey into the cyberworld.

Sometimes children are embarrassed or ashamed they are targeted on social media or in texts.  They are often very reluctant to tell a parent or an adult of their dilemma.  Signs that they may be cyberbullied can include:

  • Unexpectantly stops using their device(s)
  • Appears nervous or jumpy when using a screen device
  • Is uneasy about being at school or outside
  • They are angry, depressed or frustrated after texting, chatting, using social media or gaming
  • Are abnormally withdrawn
  • Avoid discussions about their online activities

Children can also be coached to not be a bystander to cyberbullying whether they or someone else is the target.  Many times, someone does not want to get involved due to the hassle it can cause or fear that they may be retaliated against.  Doing nothing and being a bystander actually passively encourages the aggressor and their behavior.  Standing up to the cyberbully, calling the situation what it is, offering the target encouragement, collecting evidence and reporting the incident can stop the behavior in its tracks.  Even just one of these acts sends the message that this behavior will not be accepted.

Lastly, when working with and reporting to a child’s school about cyberbullying, there are things that should be apparent:

  • There should be a school-wide cyberbullying policy that includes specific disciplinary policies when there is an infraction
  • A positive school climate that encourages kindness and respect has been shown to be a deterrent to bullying and aggressive behavior
  • Schools should include education about responsible use of digital devices as part of their regular curriculum

 

Slow Your Roll – Minimizing Rumors and Gossip

Slow Your Roll – Minimizing Rumors and Gossip

Gossip and rumors are forms of bullying and fall under the category of relational bullying.  In my opinion, this type of bullying can become the most devastating of all.  It is the most difficult to prove and detect and can leave damage that can last much longer than physical bullying.  Gossip and rumors are mean-spirited, can be used in retaliation and are a negative form of communication.  According to the dictionary they include “doubtful truth” and “typically involves details that are not confirmed as being true.”

“Gossiping and lying go hand in hand.” – Proverb

Minimizing rumors and gossip can be an incredibly valuable skill for kids especially during middle school when this behavior peaks. The strategies discussed below should be followed in order for them to be most effective.  The following is adapted from the PEERS® social skills training intervention program curriculum.

Don’t try to disprove the rumor

This can be quite difficult as our natural instinct is to deny a rumor about ourselves.  Disproving or arguing about the rumor could actually start a new rumor about us being upset.

Don’t appear upset

This again can be quite difficult as it is logical that we would be upset and that emotion could add fuel to rumor.

Don’t confront the person spreading the gossip

Once again, confronting the person starting the rumor could cause more damage and enable them to feel justified to spread even more rumors.

Avoid the person spreading the gossip

Being around the person spreading the gossip can start additional rumors of how you couldn’t look them in the eye or how you gave them the evil eye.

Act amazed anyone cares or believes the gossip

Your peers are watching to see your reaction.  Let them know you really don’t care whether the gossip is true or not.

If it is true, you could say:

  • Why would anyone care about that?”
  • “People need to get a life!”

If it is not true, you could say:

  • “Who would believe that?”
  • “People are so gullible.”

Spread the rumor about yourself

This requires you to be proactive and not wait for your peers to ask you about the rumor.  This requires three steps:

Acknowledge the rumor exists

  • “Have you heard this about me?”

Discredit and make fun of the rumor

  • “How lame!”
  •  “How stupid is that one?”

Act amazed anyone would believe or care about the rumor

  • “Can you believe anyone cares about that?”
  •  “People need to seriously get a life and find something else to talk about.”
  • “It’s amazing what some people will believe.”

 

Practicing these steps can help a teen navigate and minimize the effects of rumors and gossip.  For more information about PEERS® and their evidence-based social skills programs and bootcamps, go to their website.

 

“Not Cool!” And Other Tools to Stop a Bully in Their Tracks

“Not Cool!” And Other Tools to Stop a Bully in Their Tracks

Standing up to a bully and being an upstander for others can be downright terrifying for children.  It takes tremendous courage, timing and very likely practice to be effective.  In the heat of the moment it could be incredibly helpful to be armed with a few phrases to quickly grab and use against the tormentor.

Bullying stops in less than 10 seconds, 57% of the time when someone intervenes on behalf of the victim.

Signe Whitson is a nationally recognized author and educator on bullying prevention.  Adapted from her STANding up to Bullying, she offers the following phrases for children to use.  These short, to-the-point exclamations inform the aggressor that not only they will not participate in bullying behavior, but they will not be bullied either.  She recommends that children practice a few select phrases that are comfortable and genuine for them to use.  Furthermore, practicing and delivering these phrases should be done in an assertive manner and not through tears or whining.  Assertive phrases are not meant to put down or attack the bully, but rather show a strength of character and/or concern for the target.

  • “Friends don’t treat each other that way.”
  • “I need a friend that will treat me/others kindly.”
  • “Not cool!”
  • “Knock it off!”
  • “Cut it out!”
  • “Stop it!”
  • “I don’t want to be treated that way. / I don’t want you to treat him/her that way.”
  • “I like the way I look. I like the way he/she looks.”
  • “That’s not funny.”
  • “I can take a joke, but what you said was not funny – it was mean.”
  • “Friends don’t do that to friends.”
  • “That’s bullying.”

It is important to coach our children about how to respond to inappropriate behavior from others.  It is never ok for any child to be bullied.  Ultimately, it is up to adults to STOP the bullying. Coaching children with powerful, assertive phrases can build confidence and can be a tool to stop inappropriate and bullying behavior.

 

Vigilance against Cyberbullying

Vigilance against Cyberbullying

Just because school is suspended and we are all staying at home doesn’t mean that bullying has stopped.  As we move the classroom and the school yard from schools to on-line, we move the bullies there as well.  Now more than ever, we need to monitor our children’s online activities.

Cyberbullying is defined by Stopbullying.gov as:

”Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.”

Oversight should not slow down as more and more conversations are moving to texting and social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Tik Tok.  Further, as parents, we must be concerned that our children are on new apps like Google Hangout and/or Zoom.  Some schools are delivering content over these platforms which means that our children could be recorded for the entire school day by a potential bully in their class.  Schools, parents and children need to learn that the technology has a block video screen and a mute button, so they can protect themselves from having potentially embarrassing content recorded.  Further, schools should understand the potential FERPA violations as students are constantly on video and can be recorded.

In Barbara Coloroso’s Book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Not-So-Innocent Bystander, she references “Teens and the Screen Study: Exploring Online Privacy, Social Networking and Cyberbullying” conducted by McAfee, a subsidiary of Intel Security in 2014.  The top five recommendations that study offers about online forums and protecting children are as follows:

  1. Connect with your kids. Casually talk to them about the risks of all online connections and make sure the communication lines are open.
  2. Gain access. Parents should have passwords for their children’s social media accounts and passcodes to their children’s devices to have full access at any given moment.
  3. Learn their Technology. Stay one step ahead and take the time to research the various devices your kids use. You want to know more about their devices than they do.
  4. Get Social. Stay knowledgeable about the newest and latest social networks. [And I would add apps to the list.] You don’t have to create an account but it is important to understand how they work and if your kids are on them. (This would include new platforms like Google Hangout and Zoom)
  5. Reputation Management. Make sure your kids are aware anything they post online doesn’t have an expiration date.  I would also add to explain to your children that they can be filmed or recorded without their knowledge.

COVID 19 has changed our world.  By being proactive, honest and vigilant we can get through this together and safer both in the world and online.

 

6 Tips for Parents to Report Bullying

6 Tips for Parents to Report Bullying

Adapted from Addressing and Preventing Classroom Bullying

by Barbara Coloroso

Because most bullying occurs under the radar, as parents and caregivers, you may be the first to know what is happening to your child. You can be allies in the effort to intervene. It is important that we have a procedure parents and guardians can follow and that children know they will be listened to and taken seriously.

Here are 6 steps you can take to report bullying:

1. Arrange a meeting for you and your child with the appropriate person at the school. This could be the teacher, a counselor, assistant principal or principal.

2. Bring to the meeting the facts in writing – date, time, place, people involved, specifics of the incidents – and the effect the bullying has had on the target as well as what he or she has done to try to stop the bullying that didn’t work.

3. Be willing to work with your child and educators on a plan that addresses what your child needs to feel safe, what he or she can do to avoid being bullied or to stand up to any future bullying, and whom he or she can go to for help.

4. Find out what procedures the bully will be going through and what kind of support the school expects from the bully’s parents.

5. Set up a time when the parent, student, and educator will review the plan to see if it is working or needs to be adapted.

6. If you feel the problem is not adequately addressed by the school, express your concerns and let the teacher or administrator know that you will take it to the school district board office and if necessary – especially in cases of serious abuse or racist or sexual bullying – to the police (in the U.S., you can contact the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights).

Bullying Recovery Resource Center is always an option for guidance, support, and advocacy. Our mission is to defend bullied children and support their families in recovery. We are available as a resource for questions about how to report bullying and navigate the process. If you need support, please call 303-991-1397.

 

Bullying Legislation in Colorado – The Time is Now

Bullying Legislation in Colorado – The Time is Now

Most experts will agree that bullying that occurs in schools is at an epidemic level. According to www.stopbullying.gov, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. There is a litany of research telling us that a child who has been bullied not only struggles while the bullying occurs, but it can also lead to complications later in life.

Probably the most frightening outcome of bullying is a child taking their life. It is not uncommon. I have met a number of these heartbroken parents. It is not fair to say that bullying causes a child to choose suicide however there are compelling statistics that should be mentioned.

  • Nearly one-quarter of tenth graders who reported being bullied also reported having made a suicide attempt in the past 12 months, according to a Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Half of the 12th graders who reported being bullied also reported feeling sad and hopeless almost every day for two weeks in a row, according to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.
  • Among 15- to 24-year-olds, suicide is one of the leading causes of death, according to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education. Additionally, 16 percent of students consider suicide; 13 percent create a plan; and 8 percent have made a serious attempt.
  • Cyberbullying caused kids to consider suicide more than traditional bullying according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics

Furthermore, the statistics about youth suicide in Colorado paint an alarming picture. According to the September 17, 2019 CPR News, the following statements are worth noting.

  • The rate of teen suicide in Colorado has increased by 58% in the last three years making it the cause of 1 in 5 adolescent deaths.
  • Colorado has the highest increase in the teen suicide rate in the US since 2016.
  • In the past three years, teen suicide in Colorado rose from 12.9 to 20.4 deaths per 100,000 adolescents ages 15-19.

With these things in mind, Bullying Recovery Resource Center and Rick Padilla have joined forces with other concerned parties to propose “Jack’s Law.” Jack Padilla was a freshman at Cherry Creek High School when he died by suicide on February 14, 2019 where bullying was a contributing factor.

Rick formed JackStrong and is taking a stand against bullying and teen suicide. We are honored to be working side by side with such a courageous advocate of teen mental health.

We cannot continue to allow so many of our Colorado youth to be relentlessly bullied and to contemplate and commit suicide. It is time to put some real foundations in place in Colorado to help protect our youth. The following is our desired outcomes that we are proposing to Colorado State Representative Lisa Cutter who desires to be the sponsor of the bill (lisa.cutter.house@state.co.us, 303-866-2582):

  • Schools would be required (not just “encouraged) to create policy that elevates bullying complaints and investigations to the same existing timelines, standards, due process, internal appeal procedures as complaints of discrimination or harassment.
  • Intentional false reports of bullying shall constitute bullying.
  • An anti-bullying team must be established, and it must include at least 2 parents and an external anti-bullying expert.
  • Parents of students involved in a bullying incident would be entitled to receive a written finding about the requisite investigation, and the school shall affirmatively outreach to and meet with the bullying victim and his/her parents within 20 school days to confirm that the bullying has ceased.
  • When a school learns that a student is the alleged victim of bullying, the school must immediately assess whether the student is at risk of self-harm and provide appropriate resources to the bullied child.
  • Parents shall have the right to appeal the School District’s decision related to bullying findings to the Colorado Department of Education.
  • Bullying directed toward a victim under age 18 with the intent to provoke suicide or self-harm would be considered a criminal offense.

The time is now. Our children and their families deserve fundamental laws in place to protect children who are targets of bullying. These proposals will not stop bullying; however, they will give parents and targeted children the attention they need and deserve. This law will help provide more transparency and methods of dealing with
bullying.