- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

Cyberbullies do not need the physical prowess of their schoolyard counterparts, nor the audience bullies crave in order to harass their schoolmates. These bullies

have replaced fists and tough words with e-mails, instant messaging, social networking Web sites, blogs and cell phones.

“Traditional schoolyard bullying is a more dominant person picking on a less dominant person,” says P.D. O’Keefe, prevention specialist for the Safe and Drug-Free Youth Section of student services at Fairfax County Public Schools. “With cyberbullying, the difference is not necessarily the more dominant person doing the bullying. Sometimes the victim of schoolyard bullying can do the bullying.”

Cyberbullying is defined as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text, such as sending hurtful or threatening e-mails and text messages, spreading rumors online and setting up Web pages that make fun of someone, says Justin W. Patchin, co-administrator with Sameer Hinduja of cyberbullying.us, a Web site they created to disseminate their research on cyberbullying.

“It’s a lot of the same kinds of behaviors kids have done for generations, but using a different medium,” says Mr. Patchin, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He holds a doctorate in criminal justice.

“It’s different in that the offender doesn’t need to be in the same physical space as the target. There is a sense of anonymity that the bully feels,” he says.

A cyberbully’s popularity and physical strength are unknown, making it easy for the child or teenager to harass, humiliate, embarrass, torment or threaten another child or teen using electronic devices.

“The more harmful cyberbullying is occurring when young people are outside of school, because that’s when they have more unsupervised time to engage in this behavior,” says Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use in Eugene, Ore., which provides research and outreach services on safe Internet usage.

Schools can intervene when cyberbullying occurs on campus or involves the use of school resources, but are limited to free speech issues when the behavior occurs off school property, Ms. Willard says.

“The legal standard that has been applied by every court that has addressed issues of off-campus student speech is that schools can impose formal discipline if that off-campus speech causes, or threatens to cause, substantial disruption at school or interferes with the rights of students to be secure,” she says.

School districts in the Greater Washington area have programs in place to address both schoolyard bullying and cyberbullying.

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), for example, requires school districts to collect data on bullying and to develop and implement local bullying and Internet safety policies, says Marcia Lathroum, specialist for school counseling for the MSDE.

“It’s an effort to raise awareness that if you don’t respond or intervene, bullying can result,” Ms. Lathroum says.

Virginia requires schools to include Internet safety in the curriculum and in policies that outline acceptable use of the Internet.

The curriculum at Alexandria City Public Schools covers the dangers of being online and the importance of not sharing passwords and certain information, says Elizabeth Hoover, instructional technology coordinator at Alexandria City Public Schools. Parents are encouraged to establish rules for Internet use, to keep computers in a common area of the home and to know what their children are doing while online, she says.

“The parent aspect is important, because over 90 percent of cyberbullying occurs outside of the school,” says Mrs. Hoover, who holds a doctorate in instructional technology.

Counselors at Alexandria City Public Schools visit classrooms to teach students about bullying by defining it, helping students recognize it and giving them strategies to address it and get out of the bullying situation, says Melva Holloman, liaison for school counselors.

“We talk about what it looks like, what it sounds like and what it feels like,” Ms. Holloman says.

Prince William County Public Schools uses the Olweus Program, developed by Scandinavian researcher Dan Olweus to reduce bullying and improve school climate in grades K-9. Each school develops programs that address bullying and posts rules about bullying throughout the school building. Guidance counselors and school resource offices give presentations on Internet safety and cyberbullying.

“Never mediate between the bully and the victim,” says Doreen Dauer, supervisor of student assistance and prevention programs at Prince William County Public Schools in Manassas. She holds a doctorate in education. “Separate bullies out and deal with them one on one, and support the kid getting bullied.”

Fairfax County Public Schools also uses the Olweus Program to discourage bullying.

“There’re a lot of kids in the middle who don’t do anything. They don’t want to be the next victim, or they don’t like what they see and don’t know what to do,” Mr. O’Keefe says.

In the case of cyberbullying, Mr. O’Keefe encourages anyone who becomes a victim or target to not respond inappropriately, which makes the victim just as guilty as the bully, he says. Instead, the victim can tell the bully to stop or that the behavior will be reported and, in severe cases, legal action taken, he says.

At Charles Barrett Elementary School in Alexandria, counselor Linda Wilkoff visits every classroom to teach students about Internet safety and bullying. She uses a program she wrote, Be a Heart Hero, to encourage bystanders to be a heart hero instead of a bully’s assistant or bystander by telling the bully’s target to come join or play with them.

“The latest research says, if we don’t empower people standing around the bully, the bully gets more power,” Ms. Wilkoff says.

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