Cyberbullying leads to conflict among students and is difficult to police because it happens after school hours, said Bishop Unified School District Superintendent Barry Simpson. Photo courtesy MetroCreativeConnections
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.
â€śIâ€™ve seen him at conferences. Heâ€™s a very dynamic person; I think students will really relate to him,â€ť said Simpson.
The public is invited to attend Vandenburghâ€™s presentation and Q&A session, â€śCyberbullying Preventionâ€ť from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 in the Dorothy Joseph Auditorium at Bishop Union High School.
â€śThis should be a real education for parents,â€ť said BUHS School Counselor Kathleen Stout, who encourages attendance by parents whose children attend schools from Round Valley to Lo-Inyo. â€śKids know much more about the Internet than we do â€¦ the more education we can get, the better.â€ť
Cyberbullying (using Internet sites, cell phones and so on to bully people) and bullying in general â€śare big issues right now, on high school, middle school and even college campuses,â€ť Stout said. Simpson agrees. Cyberbullying is difficult to police because it usually takes place outside of school hours, he said. â€śMore and more we see conflicts on campus that initially derive from conflicts started on social networking sites.â€ť
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. â€śSocial 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€ť
Fortunately, the cyberbullying epidemic has not spread too far yet. Bishop Elementary School Principal Betsy McDonald said, â€śCyberbullying is not an issue at our campus at this time.â€ť
Vandenburghâ€™s 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. â€śParents will learn strategies to safeguard kids from Internet dangers and cyberbullying,â€ť states the event flyer. Simpson said he hopes Vandenburgh will â€śgive 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€ť
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 personâ€™s 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 â€śanxiety, depression and even suicideâ€ť 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€ś Kids donâ€™t realize how hurtful it is and they also arenâ€™t aware of the laws that govern cyberbullying activities.â€ť Cyberbullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts, states www.bullyingstatistics.org. They and their parents â€śmay face legal charges â€¦ and if the cyberbullying was sexual in nature â€¦ the results can include being registered as a sex offender.â€ť
Vandenburghâ€™s anti-bullying approach is three-pronged, states www.johnvandenburgh.com: â€śprotect, connect and educate.â€ť
To â€śeducate,â€ť he offers Safe School trainings, assemblies and seminars. To â€śconnect,â€ť Vandenburgh authored the PLUS Program to train and empower youth to create and maintain a â€śsafe school climate where inclusion is a reality for all young people.â€ť
In fact, on Thursday and Friday, approximately 50 students in BUHS â€śLink Crewâ€ť leadership program will receive PLUS Program training to learn how â€śto step up and stop (cyberbullying) when they see it,â€ť 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. â€śItâ€™s good. It builds school spirit and raises morale.â€ť
The â€śprotectâ€ť prong of Vandenburghâ€™s 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 districtâ€™s hope that Vandenburgh can ignite and bolster the involvement of students and parents to help turn that tide.