Cyber-bullying is a growing problem in our world today, and Providence is no exception. - Tone Deinema

Cyber-bullying is a growing problem in our world today, and Providence is no exception. – Tone Deinema

Despite cyber-bullying not being a topic regularly at the forefront of Providence Academy chatter, don’t be fooled; instances have occurred.

“There have been a few occasions where members of the MS Support team have been contacted by parents to help guide them (the parents) through situations where they feel electronic devices have been misused,” clarified Mrs. Debra Spears, Dean of Students for the Middle Schoolers.

Mrs. Catherine Berry, Upper School Counselor, similarly stated, “Yes. Every year we have a few reported cases of students mistreating each other online.”

Providence Academy is aware of the issues teenagers are facing today in relation to being tormented by means of technology, stating explicitly in the Providence Academy Handbook; “Using electronic means to engage in cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment, etc. is unacceptable and prohibited both on and off campus.”

Despite PA making it publicly known that any form of cyber-bullying is not allowed on, or off of school grounds, students still get a “false sense of security” from phone applications such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, “and don’t think before they post,” stated Mr. Steve Cunningham, Middle School Director.

Indirect tweeting. Rude comments made on youtube videos. Hate pages. If you are a member of a social networking website, or frequently browse the internet, you most likely have come across these forms, among many others, of cyber-bullying.

Mr. Cunningham says that if an episode of harassment through means of technology did occur at PA, “we would follow our electronic use policy and work with parents and law enforcement to address the issue. What steps would be taken would very much depend on the context of the situation and the accuracy of the information we are working with.”

The actions taken to stop cyber-bullying once it has been reported, can be tricky for schools to maneuver though. If a case of cyber-harassment happens outside of school, does the school have the authority to step in, or would reprimanding the student, or students, be a violation of free speech?

In the past, this dispute has been brought to the court’s on numerous occasions, and with mixed results.

In January 2012, three student “cyber-speech” cases made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. In one of the cases, Kowalski vs. Berkeley, student, Kara Kowalski, used MySpace to bully a fellow student. After being punished by her school, she sued the school district. In this case, the Supreme Court supported the school’s actions, citing, Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, another Supreme Court case concerning “a student’s First Amendment rights.”

The conclusion of that case, was that schools are allowed to “regulate speech that interferes with or disrupts the work and discipline of the school.”

Despite the favorable outcome for the school district in Kowalski vs. Berkeley, other school districts have been ruled to have “failed to demonstrate it could reasonably forecast that the student’s words would cause substantial disruption in school” and therefore have not been able to take authoritative actions against cyber-bullies.

With 78% of teens owning a cell phone, 93% either having a computer or access to one at home, and 95% using the internet, according to www.pewinternet.org, for teenagers today, staying connected with friends and family is possible anytime and anywhere.

For that reason, Providence in the past has held “numerous workshops” designed to educate parents on the technology their children are using, and how to monitor it efficiently.

Nevertheless, educating parents on how to manage and monitor their child’s technology is only one step towards the prevention of cyber-bullying. The children and teenagers using the technology, according to www.stopbullying.gov, should “Get familiar with what bullying is and what it is not.”

Students can prevent cyber-bullying by “focusing on healthy face to face relationships with peers, classmates, and family members,” says Mrs. Emily Semsch, MS Counselor.

Treating others with respect, keeping online settings on private, only allowing friends and followers that you know personally, and remaining respectful and positive online, are all strategies for preventing yourself from being a target.

If you do become a target of cyber-bullying, Mrs. Semsch recommends to,“Keep it. Don’t delete it. Do not respond. Follow through with authorities.”

As for how to deal with the psychological discomfort that can arise from being bullied? Charlie Warner ’13 shared his advice.

“People are a lot ‘braver’ online than in person. If someone won’t say it to your face, it’s not worth worrying over.”

Finally, next time you become frustrated at someone, keep the “twenty-four hour rule” in mind before impulsively putting whatever angry thought you have “out there for the world to see,” advised Mrs. Semsch.

Or, keep in mind Paige McAuliffe’s ’14 thoughts on cyber-bullying; “It’s a complete waste of time.”

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