|BULLIES IN THE TECH AGE: What parents should know about cyberbullying
By Ashley Haynes
WAUKESHA — A quick Google search of the term “cyberbullying” will bring up thousands of cases from across the country. The issue has been under even more nationwide scrutiny after a number of suicides among young children and teens. Social media trends like the Blue Whale Challenge have also come into the national spotlight due to their dark nature and aim to get young children to harm themselves. Dr. Scott Poland, a nationally recognized licensed psychologist, says that preventing cyberbullying and other sinister trends starts at home.
“I think part of the problem is parents really essentially giving away unsupervised access to technology way too early,” said Poland. “I like to joke when I was growing up, my home was a safe haven. We had one cord and my mom would sit in and listen.”
Poland acknowledges that the entire technological landscape has changed since he was a kid, and parents can have a hard time keeping up with the current trending apps. In many cases, both parents, school officials and other authorities don’t know about what is popular with children until it has already gained traction.
Poland said there shouldn’t be any private technology in a child’s room. Putting things like a computer in a family area of the home will encourage more interaction and make supervision easier.
Another issue is when the line is crossed from general teasing into bullying. Joe Koch, deputy superintendent of the Waukesha School District, says the district aims to be proactive when it comes to cyberbullying.
“We take this very seriously and we approach it from a dis ciplinary standpoint specific to each incident that occurs,” said Koch. “We have classroom procedures in place where teachers are encouraging positive interaction.”
He said teachers throughout the district are extraordinary when it comes to realizing when a child is acting out of the norm. They have strong relationships with their students that help make a bridge and they are trained to deal with sensitive subjects like bullying. The school district also has a policy in place that prohibits both bullying and harassment, whether written or verbal.
Koch says the district is always concerned about peer-to-peer relationships. Trying to teach students about cyber citizenship and how to act respectfully online is integrated into classrooms. With Waukesha students also using district iPads, Koch says they do their best to monitor activity on them. While there can be a gray area once cyberbullying happens off school grounds, school officials examine what impact it has on both the student and the school district. If something happens outside school and then trickles back into the school environment, the district will look into the issue.
“I have seen incidents of cyberbullying, but I don’t see anything in Waukesha that is more unusual than what I’ve seen in any other districts,” said Koch.
Partner ship with Waukesha police
The Waukesha School District has a strong partnership with the Waukesha Police Department to take action once a case of cyberbullying comes to light. The police department has helped the district figure out what apps and other programming should be blocked on iPads. Police Lt. Jerry Habanek says the department gets involved immediately if a child is feeling bullied or targeted.
“We’ve had some cases in the past where students have used the app musical.ly to cyberbully another student,” said Habanek. “Right now, because of the policies that are in place, we feel like we’re in a pretty good place.”
He says one of the most common questions he gets from parents is about what apps they should block on their kids’ technology. Habanek said there’s no real way to know what apps will become popular, especially specific to Waukesha. The best action a parent could take is to know all of their children’s passwords.
“They don’t have any right to privacy — they’re kids,” said Habanek.
For kids, he says the number one thing to remember is to stand up for friends that are being cyberbullied and report any incidents. Through everything, maintaining an open dialogue about proper internet etiquette is absolutely necessary. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently announced that it’s partnering with the Department of Justice to make digital citizenship one of their focuses this year. The two departments have collaborated to create an internet safety resource website for parents, schools and community members. Internet safety presentations will also be taking place in communities throughout the state.