Bullying and “cyberbullying” are serious community-wide problems, and too often, the consequences are devastating to the victims and their families.
As one recent example, the parents of a Pennsylvania Intermediate School student filed a federal lawsuit against school district officials and the parents of students who they said bullied their daughter. The suit claims school officials were little more than “passive observers, and worse, actual conspirators in the cruel, relentless and unlawful abuse.” The bullying created an environment so hostile she considered killing herself, according to the suit. In other widely reported cases, the consequences have been far more tragic.
Cyberbullying is causing growing concern. The term refers to the use of social media to send text or images intended to hurt or embarrass others. It has become increasingly more common in society, particularly among children, preteens and teenagers. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying affects almost half of all American teens and may result in drops in grades, low self-esteem, changes in interests, or depression. Cyberbullying is done through the use of chat rooms, instant messaging, emails, texting and messages posted on websites such as Facebook and MySpace. Common ways cyberbullies intimidate their victims include:
- Assuming pseudonyms or pretending to be someone else online.
- Spreading lies and rumors.
- Manipulating them into revealing private or personal information.
- Posting unflattering or degrading pictures without their consent.
- Sending vicious text messages.
One of the most harrowing accounts of cyberbullying involves Megan Meier, a teenager from Missouri who was befriended on MySpace by a supposedly 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. During the next five weeks, the online relationship took a dark turn. “Josh” – who was actually the mother of a girl with whom Megan attended school – began sending hundreds of messages to other kids, calling Megan cruel and heartless names. On October 16, 2006, Megan hung herself in her bedroom closet and was pronounced dead the next day. The Megan Meier Cyber-Bullying Prevention Act (H.R. 1966) was proposed to Congress but hasn’t yet passed.
In August 2010, the Department of Education served as host to the first National Bullying Summit and created a website, stopbullying.gov, to help support awareness, education and prevention of cyberbullying and other bullying tactics. During the past few years, cyberbullying has consistently garnered attention among legislators, celebrities and advocacy groups.