Taking a proactive approach

11/27/2011  |  TOMMY WALSER

On any given school day in the U.S., more than 160,000 children call in sick or miss school because of bullying.

Bullying has become an epidemic, which in recent years, has surfaced in the media through extreme cases of violence, desperation and often tragedy. Any solution to the problem starts with education of our youth.

The problem is that often schools never address the topic of bullying in a meaningful way within their curricula, especially regarding abuse that occurs online or electronically known as cyberbullying. The most common forms of cyberbullying involve instant messaging, e-mail messaging and text messaging. This type of cyber cruelty is rapidly increasing in volume and complexity being that teens are never taught how to act responsibly and appropriately while communicating online or via other electronic devices.

According to, “Cyberbullying can take many forms, including:

  • Sending mean messages or threats to a person’s email account or cell phone
  • Spreading rumors online or through texts
  • Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
  • Stealing a person’s account information to break into their account and send damaging messages
  • Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phone or on the internet
  • Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person”

It can be argued that this new form of harassment is even more dangerous than traditional bullying in that it occurs at any time during the day, within the home as well as at school, and is often suffered in silence. According to The Harford County Examiner, around half of adolescents and teens have been the victims of cyberbullying and only one in 10 teens will tell a parent if they have been a cyberbully victim.

If students are not receiving the education at school regarding strategies to prevent and properly respond to bullying in the classroom, it’s unlikely the topic will ever be discussed within the home unless it’s already become a problem.

It’s true that the most important step in keeping students safe is to have procedures in place to respond to bullying within the school system, which is almost always mandated by state requirements. But this only deals with the bullying problem in a reactive way of enforcing consequences, and does not attempt to address the root cause of the issue. A more proactive step would involve engaging in a discussion with students before bullying begins by incorporating instruction on the topic during class time.

It can be a tedious endeavor for an educator to create a dynamic and well-rounded instruction on the topic, but it is important that the problem be presented to students from all angles. It’s easy to assume that covering the topic of bullying from the perspective of the victim is sufficient. That providing targets with strategies to prevent bullying or to respond to it effectively by telling adults will be enough. But in order to be truly proactive, educators must address the problem from all perspectives: from that of the bully — why are they engaging in the activity and what are the consequences they can face later in life; to the bystander who has to become involved to some extent if we intend to take a united stand against bullying within our communities.

Another problem faced by educators is that, as technology continues to leap ahead, they must continually modify instruction involving cyberbullying in order to stay relevant to students. It can be difficult for teachers to stay fluent in all the new forms of electronic socializing, especially given that young people will likely be a few steps ahead of the curve when it comes to familiarity with the trends.

Some simple steps to avoid being a target of cyberbullying include not giving others ammunition to harass you such as sending out compromising, especially provocative, pictures of yourself even if it’s to someone you currently trust.

Other tips involve activating privacy settings on social media profiles, and not sharing too much personal information. It’s important for young people to learn not to respond to virtual harassment, because evoking a response is exactly what the bully wants. Instead the correct response is to save the evidence, block the offender if possible, and tell an adult — a parent or a teacher — what you have experienced. Serious cyberbullying starts with minor occurrences of harassment and if the situation escalates it’s important that evidence was recorded so the proper parties can be reprimanded.

Tommy Walser is Executive Director of the Students in the Know Foundation (SITK) as well as program founder of the Bullying Academy. He is originally from the south Florida area, attaining a B.B.A from the University of Miami School of Business in 2010. He is currently attending New York University School of Law, planning on receiving his J.D. in 2013.
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