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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cyber-bullies In Our Schools

I just don't like the negative side of the internet communications connection. The idea of "sexting," or sending nude pictures via text message - according to CBS News, is not unusual, especially for high schoolers around the country. And, now, a friend of mine recently sent me an article on "cyberbullying," a practice in which teachers are bullied by pupils and colleagues through text messages, emails and social networking sites. Reportedly, cyberbullying has affected 1 in 10 teachers in the U.K. (Anthea Lipsett, The Guardian, April 2009) Receiving hateful and upsetting emails from an anonymous address is just so distasteful and upsetting. Teachers in the U.K. said they knew there were pictures taken of them in class circulating on a network site (44% done by students, and nearly one-third instigated by a manager or colleague) but were powerless to do anything about it. A manager or colleague? Where does the attitude and conduct begin? Verbal and physical harassment begins in elementary school where 4 or 5 children experience some form of sexual harassment or bullying. It is estimated that 8 of 10 will experience this at some point in their school lives, with roughly 25% experiencing it often. ("Sexual Harassment in Education," at website http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/SHEd.html) According to another study Hostile Hallways, (June 1993, survey conducted by Louis Harris and Associates, Inc.) 83% of the girls and 60% of the boys reported experiencing sexual harassment in school during 8th through 11th grade. And the AAUW survey stated these are the most frequent types of sexual harassment experienced in school in grades 8–11:
Types of Sexual Harassment Experienced:

Girls Boys

sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks

76% 56%

Touched, grabbed, or pinched in a sexual way

65%42%

Intentionally brushed up against in a sexual way

57% 36%

flashed or mooned

49% 41%

had sexual rumors spread about them

42% 34%

had clothing pulled at in a sexual manner

38% 28%

As expected, boys are more likely to physically harass and bully others, or to be physically bullied themselves, while girls are more likely to use, and experience verbal and psychological harassment and bullying. Certainly much of the sexually harassing behavior is student-on-student. Of course, sickly, too much harassment is adult-on-student. 38% of the students (8th-11th grades) were harassed by teachers or school employees according to a survey by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). The Child Abuse Prevention Services reported:
  • A national study suggests half of all children with Internet access either have been or know someone who has been the victim of cyber-bullying - or have been cyber-bullies themselves.
  • One in five children already has received an online sexual solicitation.
  • Cases of child sexual exploitation via the Internet have increased more than 2,000 percent since 1996.
In another report (U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, 2006) found that increased proportions of youth Internet users were encountering unwanted exposures to sexual material and online harassment. The online harassment also increased to 9% of youth Internet users in 2006 from 6% in 1999. What can be done to curb the unwanted harassment on the Internet? A survey commissioned by Cox Communication and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2006 offers some clues with these findings:
  • Over half (51%) of parents either do not have or do not know if they have software on their computer(s) that monitors where their teenager(s) go online and with whom they interact.
  • 42% of parents do not review the content of what their teenager(s) read and/or type in chat rooms or via Instant Messaging.
  • Teenagers who Instant Message use chat lingo to communicate and parents don't know the meanings of some of the most commonly used phrases. 57% don't know LOL (Laughing Out Loud), 68% don't know BRB (Be Right Back), and 92% don't know A/S/L (Age/Sex/Location).
The age of computers has made it easy for predators and pranksters to abuse other innocent individuals. Much more research is needed to determine the scope of the relatively new problem. Unfortunately, much of the damage already done may take years to surface. With their convenience and vast array of communications lines, computers have become another potent tool for those bent on causing injury and pain to others. Is it the age of the cyber-bully?
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