Cyberbullying hurts real people, real children. Cyberbullying affects children in Coffee County, and educators, adolescents and parents must learn about cyberbullying and take actions to prevent it.
“From sending mean messages to creating fake pages and using someone’s password to spread rumors, cyberbullying is harming children,” said Joyce Prusak, executive director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center. “Cyberbullying might look like this: Ann uses a fake identity and creates a page on social media, where she encourages others to use fake identities and post hateful messages about Marie. Ann calls the page “Ugly Marie.” After several posts about Marie appear, Ann sends Marie a link to the page. Can you imagine the way Marie feels when she sees the page?”
Cyberbullying is inflicting harm willfully and repeatedly using devices. Tennessee law defines cyberbullying as "bullying undertaken through the use of electronic devices," including phones, computers, websites, emails and text messages.
“Cyberbullying is being mean and cruel to others by posting harmful material and using technologies,” Prusak said. “We have to remember that the line between bullying and cyberbullying in today’s environment is very blurred, almost nonexistent.”
Bullying, intimidation and harassment in the school environment occur when someone is physically harming a student or damaging a student’s property; knowingly placing a student in fear of physical harm; causing emotional distress to a student; or creating a hostile educational environment.
“Cyberbullying is bullying, and for many children they are the same thing,” Prusak said. “Bullying is kicking, hitting, name-calling, isolations, and these forms of bullying may turn into cyberbullying through the use of devices. The use of devices for cyberbullying provides a cover and anonymity, and this may intensify the harassment. In addition to anonymity, there are other layers to cyberbullying, including the speed at which it occurs and the potential for unknown people and an unlimited number of individuals to become involved.”
Cyberbullying is a serious issue that can and must be battled, said Prusak. School officials, students and parents must take steps to prevent cyberbullying.
How can schools prevent cyberbullying?
Schools need to bring policies up to date, train staff and incorporate cyberbullying into anti-bullying and anti-harassment efforts. If they suspect cyberbullying, educators need to gather evidence, if necessary, and always notify parents of children who experience suspected or confirmed cyberbullying. If the suspected cyberbullying involves a threat, educators must notify law enforcement.
How can students prevent cyberbullying?
Students need to learn to recognize cyberbullying. If students are targets of cyberbullying, they need to avoid retaliating and find someone they trust to report it. Students need to intervene if they witness cyberbullying. Students should refuse to take part in cyberbullying by not forwarding mean messages and sharing cruel posts. Students need to stand by their friends, save evidence and report cyberbullying to a trusted adult.
What can parents do?
Teach your children that no one has the right to physically or emotionally hurt another person. Teach your children to respect other children and that their actions have an impact on other people. If you suspect your children are the target of cyberbullying, ensure them they can tell you anything without getting in trouble. Children who experience bullying and cyberbullying are more likely to have headaches, stomachaches and try to avoid going to school. Let your children know it is okay to tell you the truth and that you will help them.
Teach your children to report cyberbullying. Ask your children to speak up if they are the target of cyberbullying or if they witness cyberbullying. Find out what the policy of your children’s school is when it comes to preventing bullying and cyberbullying.
Coffee County Schools’ policy
The state requires all public schools to enact anti-cyberbullying policies. Coffee County Schools’ Board of Education has implemented a policy, requiring anyone with knowledge of cyberbullying to report to the principal or a designated person. The principal or designated person at each school investigates and resolves complaints. An investigation is supposed to begin within 48 hours of receiving the report. The designee notifies the parents and provides information on district counseling and support services. All investigations are required to be completed and appropriate intervention taken within 20 calendar days from receiving the initial report. A substantiated charge against an employee may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination. A substantiated charge against a student may result in disciplinary action, including suspension.
For more information about child abuse prevention, follow Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center on social media and explore coffeecountycac.org. Coffee County CAC provides services for children who have experienced severe abuse. The center’s programs and services include family advocacy, forensic interviews, prevention education, therapy and medical exams. All services are free for children and their families.