Cyberbullying concerns increase as schools embrace mobile technology

Charlotte Smith, features editor

In a generation in which technology has opened opportunities for communication, a consequential concern has come to emerge- cyberbullying.

A prevalent form of victimization experienced by one in three teens, cyberbullying can happen at any time or in any place by using technology to harass, threaten, target, or embarrass another person.

“Cyberbullying is a significant issue that we as administrators face in the building,” assistant principal Chad Lehman said in a recent press conference with the Sentinel staff. “I think it is a pretty significant issue that students face as well.”

The Virginia Department of Education defines cyberbullying as “using information and communication from technologies…to support deliberate, hostile behavior intended to harm others.”

Whether it is via status updates, pictures, or messages, cyberbullies utilize social networking sites, email, chat rooms, instant messaging, or text messaging in order to spread negative information about others.

This includes sending “mean, vulgar, or threatening” messages or images, intentionally excluding someone from an online group, and posting private information about another person.

In Virginia, sending these threatening messages is categorized as a class six felony.

“Cyberbullying is a big issue when it happens,” guidance counselor Tracey Albert said. “Students no longer feel comfortable in school because of something that happened online.”

“When you don’t feel comfortable in the building, it affects your ability to learn, which is the whole point of you being here,” Lehman said. “Our number one priority as administrators is to maintain a secure environment that is conducive to learning. If that’s not in place, the rest of the stuff falls apart.”

According to ABC News, 160,000 students stay home from school every day due to of fear of bullying.

“After I was cyberbullied, I felt overwhelmingly insecure and violated,” senior Lucas Slover said, after a photo misrepresenting a certain situation circulated the Internet during the school day.

The psychological and emotional outcomes of cyberbullying are similar to real-life bullying outcomes, leading victims to substance abuse, carry a weapon, depression, and consider or even attempt suicide.

Research conducted by Yale University estimates that bully victims are two to nine more times likely to commit suicide than non-victims.

In reality there is no escape from cyberbullying. School ends at 2:10 p.m., while the phone and Internet are always available.

“The best thing kids can do is talk to an adult,” head of security Brian Elliott said.

However, 90 percent of victims will not inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.

“Unfortunately, it has become more acceptable to talk about people online,” Albert said.

But, the use of electronic means for the purpose of bullying, harassment, and intimidation does have legal ramifications.

“There is a code section that now covers computer harassment,” school resource officer Scott Bacon said. “It’s a class one misdemeanor in Virginia that covers specific threats against other people over electronic devices. So there is a legal component as well as a school component.”

The Board of Education of Virginia upholds standards consistent with state, federal, and case laws for school board policies on “the use of electronic means for purposes of bullying, harassment, and intimidation.”

“Counselors are working hard on lessons to teach students about cyberbullying,” Lehman said. “Despite those efforts we still see it. It needs to come to the student leadership to stop it.”