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Onset of technology gives bullying new face

October 25, 2012

By Brittney Schmies

The power of a single word can determine how things are seen. Kids not getting along or liking each other in school appears to be a normal part of life — not everyone is going to get along. Put the label bullying to the situation and it has become something completely different.

In recent years bullying has become a major public concern. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, on average 67 percent of 12-18-year-old students report being bullied at school at least once during the school year, and 36 percent of those students notified an adult.

An increase in publicized acts of school violence and child and teen suicides has shed much needed light on the problem of bullying, both in face-to-face and meditated social interactions.

With advancements in technology, bullying is becoming easier to do. Computers, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, cellphones — all forms of technology are allowing students to hide from the bullying they are doing or commit it anonymously.

Many organizations, including celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Joe Jonas, Ellen DeGeneres and Chelsea Handler have joined the national campaign against bullying. October has been made Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.

Experts say that it is important to understand the difference between bullying and other acts of cruelty. An act of cruelty is not repeated and does not assert one person more power over the other. Bullying, according to Dr. Ann Bauer, an associate professor at Cleveland State, is the existence of a power imbalance where the bully has more power over the victim, and the cruelty is repeated and happens over time. Recently Bauer led a seminar on school safety in September for education administrators, teachers and counselors.

“A bully is having a good time, when two people are being mean to each other, both people are upset,” Bauer said.

Bauer defined the three types of people according to the role they play in any act of bullying. One is the bully, who engages in harmful or threatening actions. Second is the victim, who receives the harmful or threatening action. Third is the bystander, anyone who witnesses the bullying. The unfortunate part of this is both the bully and the victim perceive the bystander as supporting the bully.

Most bullying seen in schools can be divided into two categories. Direct bullying comes in the form of actual confrontation between the bully and the victim. This may be physical altercations or calling names and saying mean things to the person's face. Direct bullying is usually displayed by male students, while female students bully in an indirect way. This includes intentionally trying to ruin a person’s reputation by spreading rumors and gossip to affect a person’s social perspective negatively.

“Females use relational aggression to bullying — using relationships to torment other people," Bauer said.

There is no set of rules that determines who gets bullied, but victims are chosen for a reason. A victim is someone who has a characteristic, trait, or belief the bully feels they can take advantage of. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that children, who are perceived by their peers as being different, appear weak, have low self-esteem or have few friends are at risk for being bullied.

While having one or more of these characteristics puts a child at risk for being bullied, it doesn’t mean all children who have these factors will be bullied, experts say.
Brittan Davis, M.Ed. and PC at Cleveland State, identified lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) as the most affected category for bullying according to data collected by Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Because open LGBTQ students are being targeted by bullies they are reluctant to say anything. Seeing other kids being treated badly because of who they are causes students to become reluctant to speak up against the bullying, Davis said.

“Witnessing an act of bullying can greatly affect one’s own attitude,” Davis said.

Who are the bullies? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines two types of bullies. One type is students who are socially connected to other students — they are focused on being popular and like to feel in charge of their peers and situations.

The other type is students who are isolated from other students. They may be anxious, depressed and have low self-esteem. These students are less likely to be involved in school activities and identify as loners.
Cyber bullying, the use of technology to insult or threaten someone, is the modern form of this age-old problem.

“Technology makes bullying easier — you don’t have to look the person you’re bullying in the eye,” said Justin Mancine, a senior Education major.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 67 percent of students also report being cyber bullied at least once during the school year.

The anonymous aspect of cyber bullying makes it appealing.

"It’s easy to say something behind a computer screen and then forget that you wrote it," Bauer said.

By using cyber space to bully someone the bully does not have to take ownership. There is no face-to-face contact where the bully has to watch the victim react to the mean thing they are doing. They just click send and it’s done.

A major problem with cyber bullying is that it is out there forever.

Just like anything on the Internet, it is near impossible to take back. Whatever words were written, videos and pictures were taken will reach far beyond a person’s peer group.

“With cyber bullying, one act can be repeated over time,” Bauer said. “If you do a good job, millions of people could see it. It will live on forever.”

Schools try their best to prevent bullying and protect the victims of a bullying situation. However, cyber bullying poses a problem. Because cyber bullying often happens outside of the school, it is hard for schools to punish or deal with the bullying.

“Mediators and safe faculty could be potentially helpful, but where do you go with this information?” Davis asked in regards to bullying taking place outside of schools on the Internet.

What schools can do is make sure students are aware of their policies against bullying and what the consequences are for someone who is taking part in bullying.

“Punishments are important,” Mancine said. “Someone has to set an example. They need to know they can’t get away with bullying.”

The increasing knowledge and awareness of school bullying and its harmful results led Ohio to require, by law, all public school districts to implement policies regarding harassment, intimidation and bullying.

The Ohio Board of Education’s policy requires school districts to form procedures for documenting, investigating and reporting complaints. They also require the districts to maintain intervention strategies and discipline procedures and to notify parents and the school board of any issues or problems. Recent amendments include cyber bullying in their policies.

With the increase of awareness of bullying and coverage of the horrific outcomes of repeated bullying, it is important to make students and communities aware of bullying, what it is and its consequences.