On August 30th after spending a number of hours engaging with a bully, Charlotte in an obviously fragile emotional state signed off with a final tweet 'You win…' accompanied with a picture of her hand holding pills. Hours later she was admitted to hospital after police and an ambulance were called to her residence in Sydney.
Cyber bullying has also become an increasingly hot topic within the school yard, as more and more students report various forms of bullying over the web. In fact according to a recent study by DEEWR, about 10% of primary school students reported experiencing some form of cyber bullying (in addition to conventional bullying) within the school term (www.deewr.gov.au).
This figure grows in the high school years. Bullying quite often takes the form of malicious social media postings over Facebook or Twitter, to more extreme examples of posting video of school yard brawls for all to see on YouTube. In 2007, the extent of bullying via YouTube grew to such an extent that it led to the banning of student access to the site by Victorian Education Services in some 1600 schools (www.theage.com.au).
In the face of this growing epidemic, schools are scrambling to find new ways to identify children at risk of cyber bullying, and put in place some form of prevention programming both to monitor children's social online practices and educate in terms of engaging in, and responding to cyber bullying. Ruth Knight, founder of Zark Consultancy, Centenary Medal winner and a long time social worker, has been working with at risk students for the last 15 years, developing and implementing a number of school programs including Girls With A Purpose, a program designed for at risk teenage age girls promoting confidence and self esteem.
Ruth says that over the last few years research has shown that cyber bullying has grown due to the increase in availability of technology, and the growing usage of social media in today's youth culture. Ruth also pointed out that this doesn't mean to say bullying per say has increased, maybe its just being conducted in new ways.
Social media does facilitate a much more passive aggressive way to bully, and to bully more frequently, which, according to Ruth could lend itself to greater levels of female bullying, as girls also tend to be more passive aggressive.
Whatever program is employed, Ruth stresses that an anti-bullying approach should be a whole school approach, and should aim to change school culture at large.
As part of her role consulting with schools to identify at risk children, Ruth has developed www.zarksurveys.com, a cheap online solution for schools to quickly identify students who are at risk, or experiencing cyber bullying, and devise a strategy for dealing with bullying through proactive programming.
Completing the Health and Well being Survey, Students are able to privately and anonymously answer a series of questions online, from school or home, quickly giving teachers feedback concerning how widespread bullying issues may be within the student body.
Cyber Bullying is a new twist on an old problem, and unfortunately, as the tools for communication grow, so too should the checks and balances needed to ensure that our kids are raised in the supportive, nurturing environment all parents strive to give them.
Both schools and parents, are recognising cyber bullying as a significant threat to our children's well being, and now as the tools to monitor it are growing, proactive programming needs to be embraced sooner rather than later.
Ben Kitzelman has spent the last 4 years travelling between Australia and Zambia, serving for one as a missionary, and is now an IT professional in Melbourne.
Ben Kitzelman's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/ben-kitzelmen.html