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Richson: The scourge of cyberbullying

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | OCTOBER 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Florida justice system is no stranger to media attention, to be sure, most recently for two female minors who were charged with felonies — they are accused with persistently tormenting a classmate for months until she killed herself.

Bullying is becoming an increasingly complicated issue for schools and law enforcement; having your ponytail pulled in the lunch line seems almost obsolete in the age of sneaky, faceless cyber-bullying. Bullying comes as easily, and as anonymously, as ever.

With the ever-climbing rise of social media, bullying presents itself both at school and in an environment that was once safe, home.

How responsible can parents be for their kids’ online activity, without entirely smothering certain adolescent freedoms that allow kids to attempt to form their own identities? How responsible are schools for the actions of their students a bus or car ride removed from school grounds?

The answer is that there is no easy solution to the new forms bullying has taken. It is unreasonable to ask that parents know what their children are doing online or on their phones at all times, when many times parents don’t understand social-media sites or texting to begin with. It is also unreasonable for schools to keep tabs on students once they have leave school, because teachers and administrators are often over-extended and underpaid to begin with.

As a society, we can only hope that kids eventually grow up. While bullying should never be acceptable, at least mature college students and adults have a more established sense of self worth so that hurtful words might be dealt with and dismissed. The Florida 12-year-old who committed suicide wasn’t old enough to deal with the unforgivable words of her peers, and she shouldn’t have been expected to deal with them. The system, though it made feeble attempts at preventative bullying laws, failed her.

The European Journal of Developmental Psychology published an article in 2012 titled “Cyberbullying: Neither an Epidemic Nor a Rarity.” To me, this middle-ground cyberbullying inhabits is almost the most alarming scenario; cyberbullying is something of a passively accepted norm in the adolescent community. Although some states’ anti-bullying laws do cover “cyberbullying” and/or “electronic harassment,” legalities are the sole method of accountability for bullies if parents and schools alike are oblivious.

According to the Association for Psychological Science, being a victim of bullying in one’s childhood years can lead to poor health later in life, trouble keeping a job, and difficulty forming healthy social relationships. And these are just the long-term effects, not to mention the immediate effects bullying can have on a child’s performance in school, peer interactions, and self confidence.

Additionally, professionals at the Cyberbullying Research Center report that victims became scared to even attend school; if the school were even in a position to step in, it would be difficult to effectively do so without the student in attendance.

Unfortunately, when people are bullied, the short-term effects may be devastating and the long-term effects may linger for years. We must do a better job to change the culture that waves off cyberbullying so tragedies such as the suicide of a 12-year-old in Florida will finally stop.


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