As thousands of students are looking forward to the launch of their next school year - new school supplies, readying that new outfit or new uniform shirt, or just getting together with friends to embark on yet another scholastic roller coaster. There are many others, however, who look upon the beginning of school with trepidation.
They are the new kids, the shy kids, the kids who would rather be anyplace else but in school. Why? The reasons take on a myriad of variations, many grounded in plain old "coming of age" angst or the "end of summer" depression, but within this group there are some kids who are in a class all by themselves. These are the kids who, as a result of embarrassment, shame, or fear, have either been, or fear that they will be harmed by their peers, or worse yet, by themselves because they believe they are alone and "the problem" is to big for them or anyone to handle.
At first blush, you may be thinking I'm talking about "in the hood" gang crime. It's nothing that obvious. In fact, this crime happens under the roofs in what appears to be happy families. This crime is insidious, cowardly, and criminal. There's a ground swell of it within schools across this country. It's called "Cyber Bullying".
Cyber bullying takes what used to be schoolyard insults, pushing, and shoving to a whole new, expansive, and very dangerous level. The cyber bully uses email, chat rooms, instant messaging, cell phones and text messaging to insult, demean, threaten, humiliate, harass, deceive, impersonate, and in many cases, posts lewd or embarrassing photographs online of their peer - while hiding behind a veil of anonymity that the Internet provides.
On the middle school level, typical insults include comments like "U R ugly, U R fat, U R a liar, Nobody likes you", however when kids reach 13, the comments are often sexual in nature, include profanity and detail true or untrue reports of promiscuity. Photos, which are sometimes altered, and video from cell phones are posted in emails and on familiar file sharing sites such as Myspace.com, Xanga.com, LiveJournal.com, Blogger.com, and others.
Even poor childish choices such as when a student puts up a website devoted to posting pictures of the ugliest or fattest kids in school, or when a 7th grade girl in Manhattan posted a video that a boy sent her of him serenading a song to her to her because he liked her and she didn't like him back. It just seemed like a joke to her, that is, until it ended up being laughed at all over the Net. Needless to say, this young boy was devastated.
Unlike the schoolyard bully, these attacks aren't by some scary kid wanting to push his weight around. They can be by anyone or no one that the child knows. Tragically, it's sometimes by someone that the child thought was a friend. And unlike the schoolyard bully, a cyber bully can be comprised of one or many kids and by the time the posting hits the Net, literally thousands, if not millions of people have seen it, if it's been shared around the world. And unlike the schoolyard bully, the cyber bully hits their victim in the sanctity of their own home or bedroom - where they feel that they can't escape.
Suzanne Stanford, CEO of My Internet Safety Coach (http://www.myinternetsafetycoach.com) , notes: "Often, kids are afraid to tell their parents for fear that their computer will be taken away or that their parents will make the situation worse". What they don't realize is that unless the bullying stops immediately, it can escalate and leave permanent psychological scars.
That's one of the reasons Ms. Stanford recommends Children's Educational Network's FREE Internet Filter and Parental Control software and there TUKI Browser for kids, available at http://www.TUKI.com.
Kids need to know how to navigate safely within this environment, so they'll know how to prevent and protect themselves from these situations. Additionally, we make it very clear to kids who might want to engage in this type of activity, that there are severe personal consequences to their behavior.
For example, we want them to consider "before" they make poor choices that whatever is posted on the Net is there forever, and as much as they may regret later that they did this to someone, the damage is done and irreversible." Experts in the field state that victims of these crimes suffer psychological trauma requiring professional help, have had to move to other schools, their mental state has resulted in their grades dropping to such a degree that they cannot qualify for college upon high school graduation; many are afraid to form close relationships with new people; and in more severe cases, suicide or murder has resulted.
These are not just childhood pranks. These are serious crimes, and several states are enacting laws, such as Florida, making these emails felonies. In Pennsylvania, cyber bullying, harassment and stalking carry stiff jail sentences and fines for those convicted.
Cyber bullies need to realize that they may be able to hide from their victims behind screen names, but they cannot hide from law enforcement. Mark Franek, Dean of Students at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, explained the process very well: "Each time the Internet is accessed, an IP (Internet Protocol) address is established. The 12 numerals punctuated by the 3 periods is the electronic fingerprint that can be accessed by the authorities to trace all electronic communications between computers and/or mobile phones. No computer or mobile phone - or its user - is really anonymous in cyberspace."
According to a survey conducted in June of 2000 by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on 1,500 children aged 10-17, 1 in 17 youths had been threatened or harassed over the Internet and about one-third of those found the incidents extremely distressing. A study in Britain in 2004 by NCH, a British children's charity, found that 1 in 4 students had been bullied online.
According to a CBS 2 (television) Special Report, conducted in 2005, more than 50% of 4-8th grade students have been bullied online. A recent nationwide survey of children and pre-teens by i-Safe America found that 57% of kids in grades 4-8 said someone had said hurtful or angry things to them online, 13% "quite often"; 53% admitted to saying mean or hurtful things to others, 7% "quite often"; 35% had been threatened online, 5% "quite often"; 42% had been bullied online, 5% "quite often"; and 58% had not told their parents or another adult about receiving mean or hurtful comments. In the UK, 33% of 9-to-19-year-olds who use email, chat, IM, and/or text messaging phones at least once a week "have been sent nasty or hurtful messages, and only 4% of parents say their child's been bullied online, according to very recent research from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The Internet and cell phones have become, in large part, the fabric of the social lives of tweens and teens. As such, they are prime targets for this kind of attack. The first thing kids need to understand about Instant Messaging, and blogs (web logs) or live journals, is that the more personal information you give someone, the more it can be used against you by not only those whom you wanted to read it, but by others whom you didn't. Whenever you type something online and press "send", you have just given up your privacy. Additionally, people online will pose to be people they aren't for purposes of deception and in many cases, to commit crimes - often stealing someone's identity in the process.
Some helpful tips for kids and teens regarding Cyber Bullying:
o Know that there are ALWAYS people available to help you that will make cyber bullies stop. These people are law enforcement; your school teacher, school counselor, principal; your parents or a nurturing, responsible adult; Cyber crime reporting sites such as: http://www.cybertipline.org, http://www.wiredsafety.net, http://www.KidSafe.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
o Don't give out any personal information such as your name, your school's name or the name of any of the sports teams in which you play, your home telephone or cellular phone number, your address-- including the city where your other parent lives if they are divorced, your parent's office address, or the address of your school.
o Don't ever use your real name as your user or screen name.
If you find that you are a victim of cyber bullying:
o Do not respond to the harassers directly because that is exactly what they want. Don't give them the pleasure of knowing that you're upset by it -- Stay cool.
o Save and print out all messages - DO NOT ERASE THE EMAILS.
o Report this crime to the police. If possible, report it as it is happening.
o Take notes: State the name of the harassers, if you know it, and all the details about the incident(s)
REMEMBER: YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOUR ONLINE EXPERIENCE. IT IS UNACCEPTABLE FOR YOU TO BE VERBALLY ABUSED OR THREATENED
If you want to BLOCK USERS from contacting you via email, do the following:
o Look for the "Block" button. Sometimes it is in your Inbox.
o You block someone by highlighting or checking the box next to their email and then clicking on the Block button. When you do this, all the emails form the address you blocked will not go through to your Inbox.
In Outlook Express, you go to a "Blocked Senders List". To do this, do the following:
o "Message Rules"
o "Blocked Senders List"
o Click on "Add"
o Type in the persons email address in the box, or right click on the name of the person in your contact list.
o Click either "Mail Messages" to block only emails; "News Messages", if you want to block communication from a news group or someone in a newsgroup; or "Mail and News Messages", to block the persons personal email and communication via the news group.
If you're still getting messages from someone who is harassing you online, after you do the above, change your email address.
It's an unsettling thought for any parent to think that their child may be a victim of a Cyber Bully, or be one. As difficult as it may be to consider, parents and teachers alike need to talk about this subject at home and in the classroom. We need to raise awareness of this issue and be pro-active. At present, lawmakers are drafting laws to prevent and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. Education, Vigilance, and strict laws are key in disarming bullies.