Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Cyber Bullying

The explosion of communication technologies has created a new venue for the timeless adolescent phenomenon of bullying. VPR reports

According to researchers at Clemson University 25 percent of middle school girls and 11 percent of middle school boys say they have been electronically bullied at least once in the last two months...

Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use says parents should also be more proactive about checking computer files.

(Willard) "Finding out where your child has registered, find out what your child has posted in his or her profile, what your child is posting online. These are all public places. Now your child may say, 'Oh, you can't invade my privacy.' But guess what? This is public information and they're posting it for the world to see. Certainly you as a parent ought to be able to look at it."

(Keck) For parents who don't know how to do this, Willard suggests asking for help at a local computer store. She's also written a parent's guide that's available on her Web site.

Anecdotally, much electronic bullying is associated with mass circulation of embarassing pictures or text about the victim, and involves more of a theme of exclusion than physical threat when involving girls. But electronic bullying is only an old problem with a new face.

Bullying is associated with poor physical and emotional health consequences, as well as legal consequences (60% of kids classified by teachers as bullies in grades 6-9 had a criminal conviction by age 24, and 40% had three).

The bullying problem garnered some attention after the wave of school shootings in the 1990s, but we need to continue to address the problem to prevent the long-term social costs of dealing with the self-perpetuating problems that bullying fosters. This Dept of Justice report discusses the 'whole school' approaches pioneered by Olweus in Norway in the 1970s which have the best evidence documenting efficacy in reducing bullying and improving the school environment, also benefitting other aspects of school performance.

School climate is a local school problem, and needs to be addressed locally. Our local Vermont school district has made the reduction of bullying a priority, and is participating in an Olweus program. I would encourage you to see what your district is doing.


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