The Gazette’s front page piece on cyber-bullying last week dramatically illustrated the terrible impact cyber-bullying can have on our teens if allowed to proceed uncensored in a toxic environment under the cloak of anonymity. Through the platform of a website (Ask.fm), teens are able to set up accounts and then (if so inclined) are able to badger, bully and degrade fellow students without any fear of recriminations as they are able to do so anonymously.
With the new pilot program that the high school has created allowing cell phone use on school grounds outside of the classroom, and with this website it has created the perfect storm of opportunity for bullies to not only wreak havoc on their victims outside of school but now even throughout the school day. These poor teens have no idea who is saying what and are feeling victimized within the walls of the one place outside of their home where there should be an expectation of safety. And the buck is stopping at the door of the adjustment counselor Amy Lilavois and social worker Alli Ritts. This is where these targeted teens are going for solace and guidance, and it appears from reading the article that they are doing the best they can.
But there is a void in terms of what type of education and information they are being offered professionally which will help them stay ahead of this disturbing trend, and also help within the administration to make whatever changes are needed to restore the school back to the safe haven it should be for learning. No one can dispute the fact that when a teen is being victimized on a daily basis at school, very little learning will take place for that student throughout the day. This is the weapon abusers use to continually chip away at their victim’s sense of self and safety. I commend the paper, the counselors and the young women who were brave enough to step up and say that something is wrong that needs to be fixed before something terrible happens, as it did with the 14-year-old girl in Florida.
So what can we do about it? I feel that we can at least make some headway beginning with education, eliminating venues of opportunity, and finally, more sophisticated parental involvement.
Education: School systems need to be sure they are staying current on all new forms of social media and their impact on teens, and they should be a resource for parents who can then stay abreast of things that they need to do at home to keep their kids safe.
Fewer venues: While I feel the pilot program of allowing high school students to use their phones during school hours was well intentioned, it has made the school an unwitting participant in this vicious cycle of abuse by giving these kids an additional few hours during the school day to wreak their havoc. I feel the administration should consider reinstituting the ban on cell phones, which is the norm in all public schools. If restricting phone use makes the faculty concerned that they will become the cell phone police, the school could utilize cell phone jammers during school hours so the kids can’t get a signal even if they choose to disobey the rules.
Parental involvement: Parents need to take the time to review the various applications offered on cell phones to restrict access, usage times plus any number of other variables they may choose. They can also use some great software programs that are meant to monitor online usage regardless of the type of device. There are some great vendors such as Teensafe.com and Spectorsoft.com. I do not suggest that any parent use monitoring software without telling their child that it is on the device, though that is their prerogative. I do however feel that when kids know it is on they will certainly think twice about sending a nude photo to someone, an inappropriate text or post a disparaging remark about a classmate. For all children under 18, parents hold the trump card. You buy the cell phones. You purchase the text and data plans. You provide WiFi access at least until they are old enough to do any of this on their own.
You are in charge!