Our View: Cooperation needed to stop bullying
November 16, 2013
Cyberspace takes bullying to new levels
Community education, parental involvement are key to combating the problem.
Cyberbullying is a national epidemic, and Steamboat Springs and Routt County are not immune. In recent weeks, the issue has been back in the news with media reports indicating that even 304-pound offensive tackles can be victims of this form of bullying. The Miami Dolphins bullying case involving Richie Incognito's alleged attacks against teammate Jonathan Martin is serving to redirect the national media spotlight back onto a problem that can have deadly consequences.
Just last month, a 12-year-old Florida teen took her own life by jumping off the top of an abandoned concrete plant because she was the victim of a vicious online Facebook attack. In connection with the cyberbullying incident, the local sheriff arrested two girls, ages 12 and 14, and charged them with aggravated stalking. One of the messages the victim received from her former friends stated, "Why don't you go kill yourself?"
By definition, cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology, such as cell phones and computers. This type of bullying most often takes the form of mean or threatening Facebook posts, text messages, Instagram images and chat room discussions.
According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of high school students reported being bullied electronically. The CDC also reported that victims of cyberbullying were more likely to attempt suicide, contemplate self-injury, skip school, suffer from low self-esteem and depression and be plagued with health and psychological problems.
The impact of cyberbullying becomes even more alarming when you consider that it often is a relentless attack, taking place 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed with just a click of the mouse. And to get victims to ignore this assault is difficult because of the plugged-in nature of society.
In Sunday’s newspaper, Scott Franz offers an in-depth report about suicide in Routt County and the organizations that are working actively to prevent it, including Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide and It Takes Courage. Because of the role bullying often plays in suicide, especially among the young, Steamboat Pilot & Today student intern Madison Ruppel wrote an article specifically about cyberbullying, localizing the problem by interviewing Steamboat Springs High School students who had been victims of cyberbullying and talking to individuals at the school and in the community who are working to combat the growing problem.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today supports organizations like REPS and It Takes Courage and appreciates the tireless work of their volunteers. But in the case of cyberbullying, we think it will take the added cooperation of families and households across Routt County to curb the problem.
Parents first must be aware that cyberbullying exists and then engage in open dialogues with their children about the issue. It is important that parents monitor their children's online activity and provide clear expectations on what is appropriate and inappropriate online behavior. Parents should not be afraid to ask for their children's passwords or to "friend" or "follow" their children on social media sites. This especially is reasonable if parents have purchased computers and cellphones for their children and are paying their cellphone bills.
Parents also should ask their children to tell them immediately if they are the victim, or someone they know is a victim, of a cyberbullying attack. Cyberbullying can make an individual feel isolated, ashamed and afraid, and early intervention combined with conflict resolution could keep a victim from harming themselves out of desperation or fear.
There are many great cyberbullying resources available to young people, parents and schools. This information is accessed easily online, and websites like http://www.stopbullying.gov, http://www.stopcyberbullying.org and http://www.wiredsafety.org are full of helpful information and tips for dealing with cyberbullying.
As a community, we can help stop cyberbullying by becoming educated about the problem and teaching our young people how to use technology and the Internet in a positive way. Educators, law enforcement officials and community leaders can join the effort by working together to raise awareness about cyberbullying, possibly sponsoring informational forums or workshops about the issue.
Knowledge is power, and studies show that young people often cyberbully because they think it is harmless and funny and fail to recognize the severity of these attacks. Now that the issue has been exposed, it's up to schools, families, caregivers and community organizations to take cyberbullying seriously and work together to ensure our area youths are safe online.