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.
“I’ve seen him at conferences. He’s a very dynamic person; I think students will really relate to him,” said Simpson.
The public is invited to attend Vandenburgh’s presentation and Q&A session, “Cyberbullying Prevention” from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 in the Dorothy Joseph Auditorium at Bishop Union High School.
“This should be a real education for parents,” said BUHS School Counselor Kathleen Stout, who encourages attendance by parents whose children attend schools from Round Valley to Lo-Inyo. “Kids know much more about the Internet than we do … the more education we can get, the better.”
Cyberbullying (using Internet sites, cell phones and so on to bully people) and bullying in general “are big issues right now, on high school, middle school and even college campuses,” Stout said. Simpson agrees. Cyberbullying is difficult to police because it usually takes place outside of school hours, he said. “More and more we see conflicts on campus that initially derive from conflicts started on social networking sites.”
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. “Social media, in general, is a huge part of our students’ lives. I want them to know the serious consequences of using it inappropriately. I hope that Mr. Vandenburgh will make that clear.”
Fortunately, the cyberbullying epidemic has not spread too far yet. Bishop Elementary School Principal Betsy McDonald said, “Cyberbullying is not an issue at our campus at this time.”
Vandenburgh’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. “Parents will learn strategies to safeguard kids from Internet dangers and cyberbullying,” states the event flyer. Simpson said he hopes Vandenburgh will “give parents tools to work with their children, like looking at kids’ Facebook pages and keeping tabs on them – and to help kids to alert adults in private.”
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 person’s account and sending damaging messages in their name; taking and posting hurtful or embarrassing pictures of a person; and sexting – 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 “anxiety, depression and even suicide” for victims. Since information on the Net is virtually there forever, victims’ lives can also be affected into the future, reflecting negatively on job or college applications, for example.
Simpson said, “ Kids don’t realize how hurtful it is and they also aren’t aware of the laws that govern cyberbullying activities.” Cyberbullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts, states www.bullyingstatistics.org . They and their parents “may face legal charges … and if the cyberbullying was sexual in nature … the results can include being registered as a sex offender.”
Vandenburgh’s anti-bullying approach is three-pronged, states www.johnvandenburgh.com:  “protect, connect and educate.”
To “educate,” he offers Safe School trainings, assemblies and seminars. To “connect,” Vandenburgh authored the PLUS Program to train and empower youth to create and maintain a “safe school climate where inclusion is a reality for all young people.”
In fact, on Thursday and Friday, approximately 50 students in BUHS “Link Crew” leadership program will receive PLUS Program training to learn how “to step up and stop (cyberbullying) when they see it,” 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. “It’s good. It builds school spirit and raises morale.”
The “protect” prong of Vandenburgh’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 – 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 district’s hope that Vandenburgh can ignite and bolster the involvement of students and parents to help turn that tide.