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A nationally-recognized speaker will address Owens Valley parents next week about the nature, dangers and prevention of escalating cyberbullying and other media threats to their school-age children.
Bishop Unified School District Superintendent Barry Simpson invited John Vandenburgh, a program developer and trainer for youth development and violence prevention, to address local parents about the increase in cyberbullying incidents affecting local youth.
âIâve seen him at conferences. Heâs a very dynamic person; I think students will really relate to him,â said Simpson.
The public is invited to attend Vandenburghâs presentation and Q&A session, âCyberbullying Preventionâ from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 in the Dorothy Joseph Auditorium at Bishop Union High School.
âThis should be a real education for parents,â said BUHS School Counselor Kathleen Stout, who encourages attendance by parents whose children attend schools from Round Valley to Lo-Inyo. âKids know much more about the Internet than we do âŠ the more education we can get, the better.â
Cyberbullying (using Internet sites, cell phones and so on to bully people) and bullying in general âare big issues right now, on high school, middle school and even college campuses,â Stout said. Simpson agrees. Cyberbullying is difficult to police because it usually takes place outside of school hours, he said. âMore and more we see conflicts on campus that initially derive from conflicts started on social networking sites.â
Vandenburgh will also present to the Home Street Middle School student body at 9 a.m., Friday, Sept. 21 on the BUHS campus, in what Principal Patrick Twomey terms a proactive approach to this issue. âSocial media, in general, is a huge part of our studentsâ lives. I want them to know the serious consequences of using it inappropriately. I hope that Mr. Vandenburgh will make that clear.â
Fortunately, the cyberbullying epidemic has not spread too far yet. Bishop Elementary School Principal Betsy McDonald said, âCyberbullying is not an issue at our campus at this time.â
Vandenburghâs presentation is designed to help parents, educators and other community members comprehend the dynamics and impact of Internet, media, video gaming and social-networking on maintaining school safety. âParents will learn strategies to safeguard kids from Internet dangers and cyberbullying,â states the event flyer. Simpson said he hopes Vandenburgh will âgive parents tools to work with their children, like looking at kidsâ Facebook pages and keeping tabs on them â and to help kids to alert adults in private.â
The school district does have board policy on cyberbullying already in place, said Simpson.
According to bullyingstatistics.org, cyberbullying can take many forms, using the Internet and cell phones: sending or posting mean, hurtful or threatening messages; spreading rumors; pretending to be another person and/or breaking into a personâs account and sending damaging messages in their name; taking and posting hurtful or embarrassing pictures of a person; and sexting â circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person via texting.
Although cyberbullies often think their actions are all fun and games, states the www.bullyingstatistics.org, they can lead to âanxiety, depression and even suicideâ for victims. Since information on the Net is virtually there forever, victimsâ lives can also be affected into the future, reflecting negatively on job or college applications, for example.
Simpson said, â Kids donât realize how hurtful it is and they also arenât aware of the laws that govern cyberbullying activities.â Cyberbullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts, states www.bullyingstatistics.org. They and their parents âmay face legal charges âŠ and if the cyberbullying was sexual in nature âŠ the results can include being registered as a sex offender.â
Vandenburghâs anti-bullying approach is three-pronged, states www.johnvandenburgh.com: âprotect, connect and educate.â
To âeducate,â he offers Safe School trainings, assemblies and seminars. To âconnect,â Vandenburgh authored the PLUS Program to train and empower youth to create and maintain a âsafe school climate where inclusion is a reality for all young people.â
In fact, on Thursday and Friday, approximately 50 students in BUHS âLink Crewâ leadership program will receive PLUS Program training to learn how âto step up and stop (cyberbullying) when they see it,â said Simpson. These student leaders will continue to meet with the groups of underclassmen assigned to them, leading discussions and activities about these and other issues, said Simpson. âItâs good. It builds school spirit and raises morale.â
The âprotectâ prong of Vandenburghâs approach is CyberBully Alert, software he designed to give kids a way to immediately document and communicate to adults any threats, harassment and bullying they encounter while online.
According to bullystatistics.org, more than half of adolescents/teens have been cyberbullied; about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying; one in five have posted or sent sexually suggestive pictures of themselves; more than one in three have been cyberthreatened â 25 percent repeatedly; and girls cyberbully more than boys. Well over half of these kids do not tell their parents about it.
It is the districtâs hope that Vandenburgh can ignite and bolster the involvement of students and parents to help turn that tide.