In days past, when a student who was being harassed at school got off the bus and arrived back home after the final bell rang, he or she was, for the time being, safe from the bullies who were targeting him or her at school.
But with expanded technology, the home is no longer a safe haven for victims of bullying. This is due to the fact that, through cyberbullying, children and adolescents can be exposed to harassment anytime, anywhere. This unfortunate misuse of technology has made it possible for bullies to access their victims through the internet via avenues like email or social media, and in text messages on mobile phones.
The damaging impact of this type of round-the-clock vulnerability has been well documented, and effects appear to be worse for children who are already feeling marginalized in some way. For example, students who report being cyberbullied often try to avoid coming to school or skip classes, struggle socially and academically, have lower self-esteem, and develop health problems. And worse, cyberbullying has been shown to exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression, and has even been associated with self-harm and suicide.
New legislation is having an impact in communities like Greene County, Missouri where statewide mandates are forcing schools to begin taking a stronger stance on cyberbullying. The new law requires schools to provide education and programming that is specifically aimed at suicide prevention and cyberbullying, and requires the state’s Department of Education to develop materials to support these new initiatives. Schools in areas such as Springfield and across the state have until 2018 to implement these changes, and develop policy around these targeted issues.
Technology is a critical component of the modern classroom, and offers a myriad of benefits for today’s digital learners. Yet schools and parents must partner together in efforts to help students learn how to use technology responsibly in order to prevent students from being victimized through cyberbullying, and to prevent young people from engaging in behavior that can carry significant legal penalties.
But raising awareness of the problem of youth suicide as it relates to bullying and cyberbullying must include a discussion of the role of mental health in self-harming behaviors. The prevalence of mental illness in children is vast, but fortunately, there are quality treatment centers in Missouri and in other parts of the country that are specially equipped to help children and families who have been impacted by mental health concerns that may have been worsened by bullying.
If a child in your life has been the victim of cyberbullying, you are undoubtedly concerned. But know that there is support available to help you address the problem, and prevent further abuse. Find out how your child’s school might be able to intervene, and connect with your local police department to learn about your community’s laws on cyberbullying. By working in unison with these key stakeholders, parents and educators can protect children from the damaging effects of cyberbullying.