Cyberbullying: The Downside of New Media Technology
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Studies done for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that cyberbullies are in the minority of young Internet users – experts gives estimates ranging from 4% to 21%. However, the number of victims has been steadily growing: From 2000 to 2005, there was a 50% increase in the number of victims. Research says cyberbully victims could be up to 34% of young Internet users. This alarming trend has led state and federal legislators and school officials to pass new laws or modify and enforce existing laws. School districts in Florida, South Carolina, Utah, and Oregon are creating new policies to deal with cyberbullying. New York City is now enforcing a law that bans communication devices in school buildings. And the state of Washington has passed a law requiring the inclusion of cyberbullying in school district harassment prevention policies.
Unfortunately, schools' efforts to discipline students who are cyberbullies are often hampered by the fact that much of the harassment takes place off-campus and outside of school hours. School officials may even be sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student's right to free speech.
StopCyberbullying,org suggests that schools add a provision to their acceptable use policy, reserving the right to discipline a student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on another student or if they adversely affect the safety and well-being of a student while in school. This makes the issue contractual, rather than constitutional, and prevents others from charging school officials with exceeding their legal authority for off-campus cyberbullying actions.
Parents need to do more, as well. A JAH study reported that 40% of adolescents say their parents do not impose rules around Internet use and are unaware of what their children do on the Internet. Parents need to monitor and be highly aware of their kids' use of new technology, and they should encourage discussion and awareness of electronic aggression. Keep the lines of communication open so your child won't hesitate to tell you about a cyberbullying problem. Don't overreact, but don't dismiss your child's anxiety.
Many parents seek criminal charges when their child is harassed. Cyberbullying can result in a misdemeanor charge for "cyberharassment," though younger children may only be charged with juvenile delinquency. More typically, cyberbullying results in a child losing his or her ISP or IM accounts, due to violating the terms of service agreement. If hacking, password theft, and/or identity theft are involved, however, it can be considered a serious criminal matter under state and federal law.
In addition, parents and schools should work together. The CDC's Division of Violence Prevention and Division of Adolescent and School Health recommend that school-parent collaborative teams be formed to develop a plan to address electronic aggression. Such teams should regularly meet to evaluate needs and assess the effectiveness of the plan, implement monitoring practices, educate students and teachers on cyberethics and the law, and support both the reporting of incidents and actions taken by school staff and parents in response to those incidents.