Lawmakers in Florida have taken steps to strengthen their already-stringent rules against cyberbullying. The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that prohibits harassment of students or teachers through the use of computers on- or off-campus. It also increases the authority school officials have to punish students for bullying.
Fifteen years ago, there were no laws against bullying. These laws began to appear shortly after the 1999 Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colo., that left 12 students and a teacher dead. Today, Montana is the only state without an anti-bullying statute. Many states continue to strengthen existing anti-bullying laws by placing the burden of responsibility on schools to monitor for and take action against bullying.
New Jersey Steps It Up
New Jersey enforces some of the strictest anti-bullying laws in the nation, with 11,000 instances reported in the law’s first year alone. New Jersey school officials can take action after a single incident of bullying or in cases where the bullying occurs off school grounds.
However, the complexities of cyberbullying have begun to appear in the appeals courts. In some cases, defendants argued that school officials overreacted to a minor incident. Others maintained administrators did not understand teenage vernacular and had misinterpreted affectionate slang for intimidating language.
Since the New Jersey anti-bullying law went into effect in 2011, at least 16 students, parents and teachers have filed appeals with the state’s commissioner of education. In addition to concerns over suspension or expulsion, these defendants worry about the life-long implications of a criminal record over teenage antics.
The Intricacies of Cyberbullying
These appeals are the result of society’s struggle to define what a cyberbully is and measure the scope of the problem. A cyberbully uses technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target someone else.
While bullying at school or during afterschool activities has been around forever, technology puts children in the path of cyberbullies every waking moment. Children have more exposure to TV and Internet than ever before. Home entertainment satellite packages alone come with 285 channels, says Slackware.org, making it difficult to control a child’s exposure to adult content, and children can be victimized any time they have access to a computer, tablet or phone.
Signs of cyberbullying can be hard to detect. Victims often react passively, choosing to keep the problem a secret out of fear of further bullying. Many victims become afraid to participate in class or sports, causing a decline in performance and anti-social behavior.
The anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids conducted a nationwide 2006 poll on cyberbullying. The poll found that one in three teens and one in six pre-teens has been a victim.
The effects of cyberbullying include lowered confidence, self-esteem and sense of security, as well as diminished academic and athletic performance. Left unaddressed, cyberbullying can cause serious emotional distress, depression, and hopelessness.
Help Prevent It
Reducing cyberbullying begins at home on the family computer, tablet, or child’s cell phone. Parents believe they know what their children are doing online but teenagers disagree, saying parents know little to nothing about what kids do in cyberspace. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Cox Communications, most adolescents say their parents do not limit their online activities at all.
The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, or US-CERT, has some of the most reasonable suggestions to prevent cyberbullying. This group maintains that, while bullying can indicate a tendency to more serious or even violent behaviors, most cyberbullies grow out of this behavior.
On their official website for the Department of Homeland Security, US-CERT lays out several effective ways someone can protect themselves or their children online. The first suggestion is to develop good online habits and pass them onto children. Parents should strive to keep the lines of communication open and remain vigilant for signs of bullying. Limiting the amount of information available online is wise, such as pictures, interests and personal habits.
What To Do If It Happens in Your Family
Don’t escalate the situation. Document all activity by saving emails or text messages. Do not reply to angry messages and block the offender if necessary. Report the offender to school authorities or police where appropriate.
Amanda is a stay-at-home mom living in Detroit.
By the time you finish reading this, 15 children will have been abused; In the next five minutes, 30 more; Within the next hour, 360 more; And by tonight, close to 8,000+ children will have suffered from abuse, 5 of which will die. Child abuse has increased 134% since 1980 and is now considered a worldwide epidemic. The high jump in child abuse deaths and the shocking increase in statistics highlights the frightening lack of public knowledge.
Educate Yourself--Learn the Facts--It may Just Save a Child's Life!!