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Monfredo: Defeating Cyber bullying - A Collaborative Approach

Sunday, May 15, 2016

 

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” – Tim  Fields

Bullying is when one or more individuals intentionally hurt others to increase their power and status. There are three main types: physical, verbal and relational. Relational bullying is what students do to hurt each other’s relationships. It’s often the most painful kind of bullying, because children are so involved in defining themselves among their peers. Social exclusion, for instance, is very hard to take because every child wants to be part of a group.

As a former principal and now a member of the school committee I have fought for a balance between academics and wellness in our schools. Every day across the country, children are threatened, teased, taunted and tormented by schoolyard bullies.   Now it’s in their home via the internet, and known as cyber bullying.  Bullies use technology to harass victims at all hours, in wide circles and at warp speed.

Thus, as a strong advocate of anti-bullying programs I have embraced the work of Worcester Public School Safety Liaison, Robert Pezzella.    In early spring, the Worcester Public Schools held its annual Anti-Bullying Workshop. It was a two day conference with the second day for representatives of all the secondary schools in the Worcester Public Schools.  As reported in GOLocal in April the featured speaker was Kirk Smalley, father to the boy who committed suicide in 2010.  The Smalley’s have been on a crusade on behalf of their son not to let this happen to another individual. Their mission is to share their story and to offer educational awareness to bullying and the real devastation it causes

The students in the high schools attending the conference were deeply moved by listening to Mr. Smalley, that boxes and boxes of tissues were passed along row by row.  There was a powerful connection with what the speaker articulated for you could see head bobbing up and down in agreement.  At the conference he invited everyone to sign a pledge card and be part of the “ Stand for the Silent Movement.”

 Taking that cue, I filed an agenda item for the next School Committee meeting stating the following:   

“To request administration to encourage our schools, with the assistance of our Safety Liaison officer Robert Pezzella  to establish a Chapter at their school “Stand for the Silent” (Anti-Bullying movement) and report back to Committee on Governance and Employee Issues on the results in June.”  The goal of the Chapter is to commit students to change and to be sure that their peers will no longer suffer at the hands of a bully. 

Just recently, Mr. Pezzella, working with the principals, had a “Stand of the Silent Day” program.  Students in grades 3-12 signed pledge cards and posters and banners were seen in most schools with messages of kindness.  In some schools Tee shirts were worn with the theme, “Stand for the Silent”, and special events were also part of this special day.

The pledge was a follows: 

    “From this day forward, I promise to respect those around me as well as respect
     Myself. I am SOMEBODY and I can make a difference.  I can make another feel
     Loved. I can be the helping hand that leads another back to the path of hope and
     aspiration. I will not stand silent as others try to spread hated through my
     Community. Instead I pledge to lift up these victims and show them that their life matters.
     I will be the change because I AM SOMEBODY.”

 

Thanks to the great work of Mr. Pezzella it’s a positive start in our continuing campaign to teach our students about the dangers of bullying.  Let’s remember that any program on bullying is only a beginning for we can’t have any “end date” for bullying prevention activities.   Please remember bullying is not just a problem in poor schools, nor is it confined to a particular ethnic group; it’s universal.  As difficult and widespread a problem as bullying is it is also a problem that can be solved.  

 Many adults may not realize that bullying in this generation has taken a different turn for technology is utilized to inflict harm on to others.  This occurrence is called cyber bullying and it’s defined as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices. Online social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to name a few, can be used by students to harass, humiliate, and denigrate their peers.

Researchers  advocate for teens to consider the following:

•    Pause before you post… do not post anything that may compromise your reputation.   People will judge you based on how you appear to them on-line. They will also give or deny you opportunities such as jobs, scholarships and internships based on this.
•    Don’t be a cyberbully yourself … Treat others how you would want to be treated.
•    Keep photos off line… Before posting or sending a photo of yourself, consider if it’s something you would want your parents, grandparents and the rest of the world to see. Bullies can use this picture as ammunition to make life miserable for you.
•    Only give out your phone number to people you know for sure you can trust and don’t respond to text messages from numbers and people you don’t know.

Parents need to be on the lookout and discuss the topic of cyber bullying with their child.  Also, look for signs of your child unexpectedly not using their cell phone, appearing uneasy about going to school in the morning, oversleeping or not sleeping enough, exhibiting a depressed mood or losing interest in the things that mattered most to them.

A school is the center of children's lives. Online harassment may take place on nights and at home, but the fallout is often seen at school and can interfere with the educational environment. In the worst case, students are so worried about cyber bullying that they can't focus on their studies or are afraid to come to school. It has become a school climate and safety issue.

That’s why schools want to know about bullying so that they can address this issue.  Schools are struggling to create policies that deal with cyber bullying and the use of cell phones at schools. Experts say banning technology is not the answer, but rather teaching kids to be good digital citizens. When schools adopt codes of conduct, they should apply to activity in or out of school and set the consequences up front. The notion that home and school are two separate spaces no longer exists in the minds of digital students. We have to make sure that cyber bullying is not a rite of passage… it’s serious and needs to be dealt with immediately.  We need to change the culture and not accept this form of behavior.  Keep in mind that bullying stops when the bystanders speak up!

As stated this is a problem that can be fixed but parents and educators all need to support one another.  Research states that parents, schools, and social media sites have a combined responsibility for teaching youth about appropriate online behaviors and encouraging digital citizenship.  

•    Parents have an important front-line role in actively monitoring their children’s online behaviors and modeling positive use of social media. 
•      Schools are a crucial setting in which teaching of digital citizenship can be integrated into curriculum at every level from Kindergarten through high school.
•      Social media sites are well-positioned to educate youth by utilizing online space to deliver messages that promote positive and appropriate behavior and emphasize the importance of using social media for sharing positive experiences and expanding digital citizenship among teens. 

The “Stand for the Silent” in Worcester is all part of the solution but parents must be aware of what’s happening in their home and work with the schools on addressing this issue.

 

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