Professor: Behavior is cause, cure for cyberbullying
On the web
JANESVILLE As long as humans have been interacting with one another, some humans have bullied others.
Just as technology makes communication easier and more efficient, it makes bullying easier and more efficient as well.
"Now it (bullying) has hit a different range of students and parents who I don't think are ready for it," said Randy Green, a Franklin Middle School health teacher.
Franklin Middle School on Monday night hosted a presentation about cyberbullying by UW-Eau Claire criminal justice professor Justin Patchin. Patchin is one of the founders of the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization that studies the trends and effects of cyberbullying among adolescents.
Patchin defines cyberbullying as the use of electronics to willfully and repeatedly do harm.
Cyberbullying has much in common with face-to-face bullying, but it has some distinct differences. For example, even though kids can go home from school Friday and not see another teen until Monday morning, they still can feel the effects of bullying through their cellphones or social media websites such as Facebook or Twitter, Patchin said.
"One victim said it was like being tethered to her tormenter," he said.
In rare cases, teens tell parents, teachers or counselors about the abuse, Green said.
"Many times, their (school workers') Mondays and Tuesdays are spent catching up on the kids' weekends," Green said.
In many cases, cyberbullying victims don't tell for fear of losing their own Internet or cellphone privileges, Patchin said.
Parents' first reaction often is an attempt to take away gadgets and prohibit children from using the Internet. That can be appropriate in some cases, Patchin said.
However, in any case of cyberbullying or other misuse of technology, "the technology is not the problem," Patchin said. "The behavior is."
A better solution is to teach young people morals and values and to behave with integrity, Patchin said.
"I tell the middle-schoolers that integrity means doing the right thing no matter what," Patchin said. "You've got to work on that filter between their ears."
Victims of cyberbullying have one clear advantage against their bullies, Patchin said. When people use devices such as computers and cellphones to bully others, that bullying always leaves a trail.
He encourages victims and parents of victims to document all instances of cyberbullying. He said victims should be careful not to retaliate, no matter how tempting it is to do so.
"You want to make it clear what direction the bullying is going," Patchin said.
Most students use technology safely and responsibly, Patchin said. They're even using the Internet to be nice to one another.
"Compliments" pages on Facebook are one example, Patchin said. One student or a group of students creates a page and encourages others to send positive messages. The compliments are posted anonymously.
Patchin encourages schools and communities to "make compassion cool" and recognize that students can do great things.
"Don't put it past your kids to do something very nice in this regard," he said.