Parents, teachers and students learn about cyberbullying



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ON, March 23, Sameer Hinduja (right), a leading authority on bullying and cyberbullying, made a detailed presentation on cyberbullying at the Kingswood Arts Center for an audience of 110 interested parents, students and educators. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
April 07, 2011
WOLFEBORO — On March 23 the Appalachian Mountain Teen Project and Governor Wentworth Regional School District jointly sponsored an information presentation on the subject of cyberbullying at the new Kingswood Art Center auditorium.

The presenter was Dr. Sameer Hinduja, Associate Professor of Criminology Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, a noted expert on bullying and the author of "Bullying: Beyond the School Yard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying." Dr. Hinduja made two presentations that Wednesday: the first to about 300 teachers in the afternoon and then to about 110 parents, students and interested adults in the evening.

The presentation was full of information, some of it disturbing, but his overall message was a positive one, that this is a manageable problem.

He started out by pointing out how involved teens are with the internet and cellphone communication. He said 93 percent of teens are online, with 63 percent going online daily. Of these users 73 percent have profiles on Facebook or other social sites.

Cellphone use is high too: 75 percent of teens have cellphones. Even young teens have them: 58 percent of 12-year-olds and 73 percent of 13-year-olds.

He stressed that there is a "digital divide": adults are what he called "digital immigrants": they did not grow up with Internet-based socializing. They use the Internet to supplement their lives and use online resources productively (e-mail, news feeds, following stocks).

Teens socialize on the Internet.

He defined bullying as being mean, disrespectful and hurtful, with behaviors that include pushing, threatening and teasing. Bullying occurs repeatedly and creates a power differential. He said that nearly everyone has been a victim of bullying, a bully him or herself, a witness or a friend of a bully or victim. He described a personal incident where he was bullied by someone younger who had a crush on the same girl he did. He was badly beaten and could not return to school for days.

Today, he said, his bully would have taken a photo of him with his cellphone camera and sent the photo to everyone, including the girlfriend.

One out of every five teens has been bullied. Of those, 35 percent were bullied in chatrooms online; 28 percent said they were bullied by someone they know by e-mail.

There is bullying during online gaming: 34 percent said they were bullied while playing online, harassed by people they will never see.

Forty-five percent of victims said they were bullied by cellphone.

Then there is Web page bullying, where someone asks, "Who's the ugliest freshman girl?"

Bullying also happens on social networks: 46 percent said they were bullied on Facebook, and sometimes the results are tragic. Dr. Hinduja cited several national cases where the victim of bullying ended up killing him- or herself.

Even YouTube is not immune: 26 percent of victims said they were bullied on YouTube, often through negative comments on innocent videos.

Another form of bullying is what he called electronic dating violence: 11 percent of boys and girls said their partner abused them online, making fun of them, threatening them, and embarrassing them. In the survey 7-8 percent of boys and girls admitted to sending threatening cellphone messages.

Finally there is "sexting," which primarily occurs through cellphones and starts in middle school. Dr. Hinduja cited a case of an Ohio girl who provided a topless photo of herself, taken with her cellphone, to her boyfriend at his request. The couple broke up and the ex-boyfriend passed her photo around all over the Internet. She complained to the school and police, but they were unable to protect her and she ended up taking her life.

In the survey 13 percent of teens said they received a naked or semi-naked image from someone at school and eight percent said they sent such an image. It is considered by some a new form of flirting: 43 percent said they sent it to have fun, 21 percent to impress, 18 percent to feel good about oneself, eight percent to try to get a date. Fully 43 percent said they sent an image because they were asked to do it.

Issues

Dr. Hinduja identified key issues that contribute to cyberbullying. One issue is lack of supervision: often a computer is in the teen's bedroom where no adult can observe the bullying or their child's reaction.

Another is the Web's anonymity: bullies do not use their real names.

The Web is also "viral": the same nasty message or photo can be sent to hundreds in a very short period of time.

It is easier to be cruel through text messages than vocalizations because there is no immediate feedback that you have gone too far.

In social networking you can lie to get an account there is no age verification (Hinduja showed the Facebook page of a 10-year-old that his girlfriend babysits).

Things posted to social sites like Facebook can persist long after they have been removed from the primary site and there are actually Web sites that will search for your name on all Facebook pages.

There are sites that allow abusive postings: Formspring.Me, PandaExpress, collegeacb. Even sites that claim to filter abuse, like Club Penguin, can be subverted by such simple means as running bad words together.

What can be done

Dr, Hinduja's first advice was "Don't freak out." Cyberbullying is not the biggest threat to you or your child.

Second, "communicate with your child." Talk and ask questions. Become a "friend" on your child's Facebook page (you can see what's posted).

Watch your own words and actions: you may be encouraging bullying behavior.

Call out when others are mean: don't let bad behavior go on silently.

Start getting involved as early as possible, in elementary school.

Admit when you do something wrong.

Ask what sites your child visits and what sites friends visit.

Set rules of behavior and stick to them.

Educate, train and discipline your children.

Don't abdicate, delegate, relegate or mitigate: take charge.

Google your kids with [name] inurl:facebook.com.

The following sites let you search Facebook: youropenbook.org, zesty.ca/freebook, and booshaka.com.

There are other sites listed on Dr. Hinduja's Web site www.cyberbullying.us, along with a Family Internet Use Contract and a Family Cell Phone Contract, scripts to talk with your teens and scenarios to stimulate discussions. He urged parents and students to visit the site.

Dr. Hinduja also gave specific tips for teens (and everyone else):

- Don't make yourself locatable/allow yourself to be "tagged."

- Check your privacy settings on Facebook

- Go through "friends" a delete those who are not real friends

- You don't have to accept friend requests: strangers will not victimize you, but "friends" will.

- Unfriended people do not know you have unfriended them.

- Report cyberbullying on Facebook: you won't get "outted" in the process.

- You can now block photos on Facebook.

- Be very careful what you post: assume it will last for years.

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