Cyber bullying can have disastrous effects on children.

Just ask Cortni Mayo, a youth engagement specialist at Comprehensive Mental Health in Independence. She has worked with a client, whose name could not be released because of privacy laws, who nearly took her own life by overdosing on pills after being bullied on Facebook.

The client was cyberbullied to the point that she became depressed and attempted to overdose on pills. There were girls at the school telling the client “to go kill herself” on Facebook Messenger.

“If a neighbor hadn’t intervened, she probably would have died,” Mayo said.

Before the Internet became a big deal, bullying was usually physical, with students starting fights or perhaps shooting a spitball at a student trying to study.

In the technology age, bullying is a bit different, and can have a lasting impact on pre-teens and teenagers. It isn’t just physical, it can be done with a few clicks and strokes on the keyboard.

Social media sites and smartphone applications like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have changed the complexion of bullying. It’s been a problem for years and is something that’s impossible to completely eliminate.

That’s why local school districts and other organizations have been working together to raise awareness of this bullying, which has even nearly cost the life of a local child and can cause depression.

 

Schools responding

The Grain Valley School District recently changed its policy to make it clear what the definition of bullying is and that bullying on the Internet won’t be tolerated; although the policy has not yet been approved by the school board.

Cyberbullying actually was a primary concern among students and parents who were surveyed by the district for input on the bullying policy, assistant superintendent Brad Welle said.

“A lot of the feedback the students gave us was around the cyberbullying,” Welle said. “The two main things they say is ‘cyberbullying is the deal.’ Rather than just the bullying. We define both in our policy.

“All of our employees will be receiving revised training and how to report bullying. That will include school bus drivers.”

Regarding online or text message bullying, there are specific things that have to happen in order for the district to be involved. Grain Valley, like most other districts, can only discipline students participating in cyberbullying if it’s done using school-issued computers; any phone, tablet or computer used on campus; if it’s disrupting a student’s learning or if they don’t feel safe at school.

“Because of the new law (House Bill 1583 addressing student safety, including cyberbullying and youth suicides), if what happens outside of the school day among students has a significant negative impact on what’s going on in school, then the administration has a responsibility to respond.

“What we’ve done with this new law is schools have more responsibility in what happens outside the school day than what they had before. That is going to shock some people.”

It’s something Welle said the district takes seriously and said cyberbullying is something that is happening more often because it’s easier to do than to bully someone in person.

“To the people who say that, ‘Well, we were teased when we were kids and we turned out OK.’ It’s not OK,” Welle said. “The teasing and put downs are not OK. I am sure that even adults have had interactions with others through social media or through email and never had someone treat them that way face to face. People can behave much more poorly through an email communication or through social media than what they would do face to face. It’s having an impact on our youth.”

Osage Trail Middle School counselor Becky McIntyre had similar thoughts. She said what makes it difficult to enforce is the fact that the majority of students won’t report that they are being bullied.

“They try to handle it on their own or try to retaliate,” McIntyre said. “That’s something we really focus on here is making sure students report it. Things we stress here is don’t ignore the harassing behavior, and report it.”

That’s one of the things Synergy Services school violence prevention education specialist Kate Pankey said is a way students can help stop bullying online.

She is formally known as “The Bully Lady” and has spoken about bullying at many schools in the Kansas City metro area and will specifically be addressing Cyberbullying at Osage Trail Middle School this March.

She said she feels that the number of bullying incidents that occurs today is greater than it was in the 1990s and early 2000s because of the increasing use of the Internet.

“There’s a whole other platform now,” Pankey said. “It’s the amount of exposure and the availability. Before you could go home and get away from the bullying. Nowadays it’s 24 hours a day. If I want to say something nasty to you at 1 or 2 a.m. and keep you up all night, I can do that. Kids who normally wouldn’t bully in person, are more likely to lash out online because they feel they are anonymous. I think it tipped off some of these kids to think, ‘’Boy, I would love to do or say this to that person, but I also don’t want to get my (rear end) kicked.”

Added Mayo: “Statistically, one in four teens are being cyberbullied. One in six are doing it to others. Most students have cell phones. It’s really easy.”

In an effort to discourage students from bullying online or through text messages, Pankey tells students of the consequences of posting things on the Internet.

“We put it back on them,” she said. “Everything they put on the Internet is 100 percent public even if they are your friend on Facebook or not. Any cell phone, tablet or computer keeps track of every stroke on the keyboard, every website you visit and everything you click. It tracks your behavior in your browsing history.

“So if you post something nasty about someone on Facebook, we talk about those long-term goals kids are interested in. Like if someone wants to be a pro athlete, if the (Miami) Dolphins are looking to pick you up, the first thing they are going to do is pay for a really in-depth background screening on you and check your social media history. You have to think, how does Facebook make money? OK, there are advertisements but they are really selling your information to third parties. That’s when the light bulb does ‘ding’ for them.”

Even with many people like Pankey working with students to help prevent bullying, it’s still out there and may never completely be erased. But there is hope even for those who have been distressed from being bullied online. If students do the right things and seek the right help, they can get away from cyberbullying. Mayo’s client, who nearly took her own life because of cyberbullying, is recovering nicely.

“She has actually come a long way,” Mayo said. “I started working with her in June. We spoke about eliminating those influences in her life. She’s blocked them and when there is some cyberbullying, she takes a screenshot of it and doesn’t respond to it. She now has a record of it if she wants to go to the police about it.

“She’s not been hospitalized in quite some time. She’s been able to eliminate those negative factors out of her life.”

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TIPS TO COUNTER CYBERBULLYING

Synergy Services school violence prevention education specialist Kate Pankey has been speaking at schools about bullying prevention in the Kansas City metro area for several years. Here are seven tips from her on how students and parents can help prevent cyberbullying:

• Decrease the amount of information that you put on social media: This not only to give less fuel for bullies but also keeps students safe from others not knowing their personal information.

• Reduce the amount of social media websites you use: If a student doesn’t have any personal social media pages, it doesn’t provide the space for the bully to post hurtful things. When you have multiple accounts, you are increasing your risk for bullying.

• Change your password often: This prevents hackers from hacking into your account and pretending they are you. Also don’t make all of the passwords the same. Once they get into one, they will want to get into all of them.

• Set your privacy settings as tight as possible: It makes it harder for an average person to get into your account. It reduces how public your posts are.

• Report it to at least two adults: Sometimes if you just tell one adult, they may not know what to do with that information or may not be listening. If you report to two adults, you have a backup person to help you get the situation resolved. If it’s at school, notify a school faculty member, whomever you feel comfortable sharing it with.

• Do a screenshot or take a photo of a bully posting something mean on your personal page: This way the student can prove they are being bullied online.

• Block the bully: This will not allow the bully to post anything else on your page or direct message you.