Bullying from behind a screen | VailDaily.com

Bullying from behind a screen

Lory Pounder
Vail, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Forget the name-calling on the playground, the way of bullying someone today is much more far reaching through photo manipulation, ridiculing text messages and mean MySpace pages.

In other words, along with increased access to technology comes increased cyberbullying ” something schools are trying to combat and make parents aware of.

“This is the type of bullying that is probably going to get worse before it gets better, unfortunately,” said Julie McCluskie, climate and communications coordinator with Summit County School District. “Hiding behind a computer screen … it’s a different kind of power.”

And while the cyberworld may leave some parents lost in space, knowing children’s passwords and checking out their MySpace pages are ways to prevent bullying over the Internet, officials say.

Monitoring how long kids are on the Internet or cell phones and putting computers in where kids can be supervised easily by parents are other ways to stay on top of the issue, McCluskie said.

Also, even if it happens outside the school, parents are encouraged to tell teachers about the bullying incidents so they can look into the situation and take disciplinary action if necessary.

Bullying generally peaks in middle school and girls are more often the culprits, McCluskie said.

Cyberbullying has gained a lot more attention since she started with the school district two years ago, McCluskie said.

Students have thought of ways to bully that generations who grew up without technology would never have dreamed of.

Some examples, according to cyberbullying.org, include taking a picture of a student in the locker room and sending it out to others, posting pictures and having others rate them in a derogatory way, and engaging someone into revealing personal information and then sending it out in a mass e-mail.

John Halligan, a Vermont resident who came to speak to middle and high school students at the beginning of school year, knows how serious cyberbullying can be. His 13-year-old son, Ryan, committed suicide in 2003, after being cyber-bullied, Halligan says.

The Halligans have a Web site, ryanpatrickhalligan.org, to spread awareness about the issue. In bold at the top of the site it reads, “If we only knew, if he only told us.”

It goes on to tell the story of how rumors spread online and how the Internet was a tool that intensified the bullying. In one instance a girl pretended to flirt with Ryan over the Internet so he would share embarrassing secrets that she then distributed to her friends.

“Now certainly my son was not the first boy in history to be bullied and have his heart crushed by a pretty girl’s rejection. But when I discovered a folder filled with IM exchanges throughout the summer and further interviewed his classmates, I realized that technology was being utilized as a weapon far more effective and reaching then the simple ones we had as kids,” John Halligan writes on his Web site.

“Passing handwritten notes or a ‘slam’ book has since been replaced with online tools such as IM, Web sites, blogs, cell phones, etc. The list keeps growing with the invention of every new hi-tech communication gadget.”

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