We’re in an age of media at your fingertips. People of all ages are making use of a smart phone or tablet of some sort.
“With great power, comes great responsibility,” Peter Parker’s (Spider Man) Uncle Ben said, quoting an 18th century French maxim.
While the various devices may not seem powerful, those who have been victims of cyber-bullying know all too well that more than sticks and stones can legitimately hurt.
“I wish the public at large knew this about cyber-bullying: as easy as it is to do something like type or move thumbs on a phone screen, it can feel like nothing. It can feel like it’s just immaterial and an opinion no one will ever pay attention to,” Amber Jensen said. “However, to the person receiving those words as comments or reading the words in a post, it can feel like being sucker punched.”
Woodward Professional Oklahoma Educators President and Woodward Middle School Teacher Sonya Covalt said while adults often use online avenues for bullying, her chief concern is the effect on students.
“Cyber-bullying, or online bullying, was never something my contemporaries and I dealt with. We grew up in a time without cell phones, or personal computers, or tablets, or any other devices requiring Internet or wifi because there was no Information Super Highway in those days,” Covalt said. As a parent, and an educator, it’s my responsibility to try and stay abreast of platforms and apps which are notoriously used among kids and teens.”
Cyber-bullying affects the instigators as well as the victim, according to Covalt.
“Online bullying is far too easy and far too accessible,” Covalt said. “Phones, which are the main source used for this issue, are such a major distraction in school that I significantly limit the amount of phone time in my classroom.”
When the students in her classroom have the opportunity to utilize their phones in class, it is for educational purposes only, Covalt said.
“Students will, however, will take sneak peeks at their phones intermittently throughout a class to check notifications,” Covalt explained. “Their cell phone is a significant link and portal for their social lives. Checking notifications has become instinctual for so many.”
According to Covalt, online bullying is shared with friends, who share with more friends, spreading the hurtful information like wildfire.
“So it’s not a one time insult or personal attack. It is one that continues in a thread and is shared," she said. "The victim of such attacks can be devastated.”
Such pain can be the cause that relationships are ruined, according to Covalt.
“False rumors are spread at a far greater speed and a much higher impact than word of mouth,” Covalt said. “I’ve seen students so damaged by online bullying they have resorted to self-harm behaviors.”
Woodward High School librarian Dawn Castor worries that is so easy to type out a fiery response when one isn't face to face.
"Since we are separated from “real” people by our devices, it has become allowable and even acceptable to say whatever you want to whomever you want," Castor said. "But the written word, especially when directed at a specific person, is more dangerous and lasting than that which is spoken. The victim can go back and read it over and over, anonymous people can jump on the band wagon until a disagreement between two people becomes a public argument that lingers in cyberspace for eternity."
One app that can help is called the Stop Bullying Defender from Adevco provides both educational information and a situational alert feature that allows the user to send instant alerts to those who care for them.
There are several alert levels including, Green Alert means all is fine, Yellow Alert means I am concerned, Red Alert means I need immediate assistance, and Blue Alert is a button for Hold Until Safe. Each alert can be configured with a personalized message for a list of individuals the app sends an email and/or text message to. GPS location can also be set up with this app.
According to Project AWARE Community Manager Amy Whitewater, cyber-bullying is a threat that youth contend with 24 hours a day. The constant contact with technology makes it impossible for them to escape threats and the fear and anxiety it causes.
“Perpetrators have moved beyond the stereotypical ‘Give me your lunch money’ approach and have turned to online threats, intimidation, and harassment,” Whitewater explained. “Because cyber-bullying is done behind a screen rather than face-to face, it’s easier for bullies to be more cruel and aggressive, and it lends itself to mob mentality and public humiliation.”
According to Larry Lawton of the Reality Check Program for anti-bullying, people can help eradicate bullying in the following ways:
• Seek immediate help.
• Report bullying and victimization incidents to authorities.
• Speak up for and offer support victims.
• Participate in committees and organizations.
• Encourage families to be involved in activities.
• Become a buddy for younger or quieter individuals.
Jensen shared the importance of not inadvertently becoming a bully, saying she has a screening process for what she says online.
“Would I say this in real life, to their face? Is what I’m saying necessary? Is what I’m saying true?” Jensen asks herself. “If I can answer YES to all three, then I post it or comment it. But if I can’t, I think twice about it.”
Jensen said especially these days, kindness is important.
“A lot of people read your words online and take it to heart more than they would ever admit. Always be kind,” Jensen shared. “If you can’t be kind, walk away. Use the block, unfriend, unfollow, or restricted list functions of social media. Stay classy.”