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High-tech ways to deliver the same lowdown sting

May 15, 2007|by ANNA BALDASARRE

Halfway through the morning, you roll out of bed, moaning at the already exhausting humidity of a July morning and head to the kitchen. You grab a Pop Tart and settle yourself at the computer, ready to IM your friends and post new pictures on your MySpace. A peppy tune plays on your cell phone, and you open the text message, to see only three words: I HATE YOU!

You're the victim of cyberbullying.

One of Smithsburg High School's counselors, Kristen Ganoe, described bullying or harassment as "repeated actions or words or gestures that demean or hurt someone, whether that be physically, mentally, or emotionally." Girls might use gossip as a method of bullying, while boys tend toward violence.

And some teens bully others after school and over the Internet.

Stopcyberbullying.org is a Web site connected with the Wired Safety Group devoted to educating students, parents, and educators about this threat. Cyberbullying is "when a ... teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another ... using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones."

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Cyberbullies can go about their hurtful actions in many ways, including setting up Web sites targeted at making fun of a specific person or group of people, stealing passwords and posing as the victim, or sending vicious messages or death threats through e-mail or text messaging.

Sometimes bullies do these things just because they can, because over the Internet they can be someone they're not in reality. Maybe they are bored and cyberbullying provides a means of entertainment. Maybe they do it just for the satisfaction of torturing others.

Then there are times when the recipient of an innocent message misunderstands the intended meaning and sends an angry message back in retaliation.

To avoid being a cyberbully yourself in a situation like this last, Stopcyberbullying recommends people "Take 5!" Take a deep breath and lift your fingers from the keyboard to help calm down. This gives you a chance to think before you react rashly.

And just as there are bystanders in traditional face-to-face bullying - the audience that knowingly or unknowingly encourages the bully - "cyberbullying by proxy" also occurs. Sometimes, the bully's accomplices don't even know what they are helping with. If a bully can make it look like the victim is doing something wrong, the victim is often punished.

So what if you are being cyberbullied? What can you do about it? Just as victims of traditional bullying are encouraged, it is best to talk to your parents, who can then notify local law enforcers. Stopcyberbullying recommends "stop, block and tell" - a strategy with three parts. "Stop" tells you to "take five" and calm down. Then block the cyberbully from contacting you, and tell an adult.

In most cases, schools have no authority in dealing with these cases, since they don't happen during school hours or on school property.

The best way to prevent cyberbullying is simple. Be careful that you are not an inadvertent cyberbully yourself, and that you don't share any personal information, such as your telephone number, over the Internet.

Anna Baldasarre, 15, is a freshman at Smithsburg High School. She wishes bullies could learn to respect everyone.

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