Online Thugs

By Frank Wagner

June 6, 2008 7 min read

ONLINE THUGS

Technology helps create new threat: cyberbullying

By Frank Wagner

Copley News Service

Technology has allowed bullying - traditionally acts of stronger children victimizing weaker ones - to expand, according to Derek Randel, an educator turned school violence authority and author, whose books include "Stopping School Violence" (AuthorHouse, $18).

There's no hard-and-fast line where teasing stops and bullying begins, but the California Department of Education gives examples of what it calls "direct bullying:"

- Hitting, tripping, shoving, pinching, excessive tickling

- Threats, name-calling, racial slurs, insults

- Demanding money, property or some service

- Stabbing, choking, burning, shooting

The department also lists "indirect bullying" tactics, which include:

- Rejection, exclusion, isolation

- Public humiliation

- Manipulating friends and relationships

- Blackmail, terrorizing, posing dangerous dares

- Sending hurtful or threatening notes or e-mails

- Developing a Web site to degrade someone and inviting others to post like messages

These last items illustrate the growing phenomenon of "cyberbullying," which affects not only students, but also an alarming number of educators, according to Randel, whose most recent book, "Attacking Our Educators" (Xlibris, $30) deals with the problems and proposed solutions to assaults on school staffs.

"If I beat you up on the playground, the only ones who know about are the ones that see it," Randel says. "But if it's on Web, everyone can see it." The result "much more damaging psychologically."

Technology has bred "bullying where you don't look the victim in the eyes. This makes it so anyone can be a bully. I may not pick on you on the playground because you're bigger than me but I can go home to the keyboard and anyone can become a potential bully."

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT

A parent's first line of defense is to look for changes that may suggest abuse: injuries, bruises, changes in mood or attitude. When children come home famished, he says, "chances are they're just hungry, but maybe someone took their money."

A new reluctance or refusal to go to school or a fascination with weapons may bode ill, too. Information compiled by Randel Consulting Inc. indicates that 160,000 pupils miss school every day due to school violence, that 950,000 students across the U.S. bring weapons to school each month and that schools report over a 250,000 students per month are being physically attacked during the school day.

Adult involvement is key. "What you want to do is ask some questions," Randel says. But parents need to frame them in a certain way.

"You can't ask, 'Are you being beaten up?' - kids wont say anything. So you want to ask, 'Is there any bullying going on at school?' The more you discuss it, the easier it is for them to talk about it."

If the conversation goes well, the child will leave without feeling like he has been lectured and with a sense of adult empathy.

To combat cyberbullies, Randall advocates preparation.

"No. 1, never put an Internet connection in your child's bedroom," he stresses. "It's like inviting the whole world in there."

In fact, "Kids are getting bullied in their bedroom when they're home alone because of that." He suggests placing a computer in a central location with the monitor's back against the wall so the screen can be viewed by anyone.

"No. 2, never share your password. We also say discuss this with your child before this becomes an issue." A lapse in security can have lasting consequences. "If I get your password - girls are good at this - I can log on to your account and change the password so you can't get to it. Then I can send an e-mail in your name."

When things do go wrong, Randel suggests playing hardball. "A lot of stuff happening online is just plain against the law. In addition to calling the school, you want to call the police."

Finally, he advocates keeping cell phones out of schools. With a cell phone, a child can take pictures of other children or tests, and access inappropriate content on the Internet without your knowledge.

"They really don't need them between 8 and 3," Randel says.

SIDEBAR

Dealing with bullies

Copley News Service

What options should be presented to anyone who is a victim of bullying? According to the Web site of school violence authority Derek Randel (www.stoppingschoolviolence.com):

1. Spend your time with friends - there's safety in numbers.

2. If possible ignore the bully or tell him/her to stop. Walk away instead of standing there.

3. Always tell an adult - a trusted one like a teacher, principal, parent or someone in your family.

4. Stay in safe areas of the school during lunch and breaks. Do not go to the bathroom alone, or walk around alone on the playground.

5. Always stay where there are plenty of other people; never wander off on your own.

6. Sit near the driver on the bus. Refuse to go to the back of the bus where the bullies may be sitting.

7. On your way to and from school, vary the route if possible; walk with other people even if they're younger or older.

8. If you receive threatening phone calls or e-mails, contact the police.

9. Consider martial arts training (karate, judo). This helps numerous children with their self-confidence.

10. Learn one-liners. These are short lines to stop being pulled into an argument.

11. Avoid eye contact. This can get the bully started and also it may show your fear.

12. Increase your number of friends.

13. Look at your body language. Carry your head high, shoulders back, chest out and walk like you own the place.

? Copley News Service

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