It’s an unpleasant topic. School districts don’t want to talk about it. Kids talk about it but don’t necessarily tell their parents about it. Parents talk about it among themselves and hope it doesn’t happen to their children.
We’re talking about cyber-bullying, and it almost always starts at school. For the most part, cyber-bullying is like other forms of bullying – and kids survive it and move on. But sometimes they don’t – as we saw in the recent suicides of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi and Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince.
It’s not that there aren’t laws against bullying. According to Bully Police USA, 45 states now have anti-bullying laws and most include cyber-bullying elements. The problem comes in the lack of a uniform standard for schools to deal with the cyber-bullying threat, which changes rapidly with the advance of technology and social media.
The fact is, there are no national standards for schools to adopt on cyber-bullying. At the state level, laws typically direct the school districts under their jurisdiction to develop their own procedures to deal with bullying, lumping cyber-bullying in with everything else. Which means each district’s policy will differ from every other district. Which leaves a lot of room for “mistakes” to happen.
That’s why the State Legislative Issues Committee (SLIC) of the St. Louis Junior League is trying to make a difference. Starting with St. Louis-area school districts, the League is working with school administrators to formulate a standard approach to cyber-bullying. But SLIC’s perspective is much broader than that. Working with Missouri State Representative Sue Allen, Missouri Senator Jane Cunningham and Tina Meier, founder of the Megan Meier Foundation, SLIC’s goal is a cyber-bullying standard that applies to all of the school districts in Missouri, modifying the recently passed House Bill No. 1543 in Missouri.
After that, who knows? SLIC is open to working with Leagues and organizations in other states to develop a true national standard – the first – to educate school administrators as well as parents on what can be done to create an effective approach to dealing with cyber-bullying across the country.
What are the stakes? Well, just look at the statistics.
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyber-bullying is a problem that affects almost half of all American teens.
According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, over half of cyber-bullying victims do not know their perpetrator’s identity.
According to the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, 19% of children surveyed received unwanted sexual solicitations and approaches online along with harassing incidents, including threats, rumors, or other offensive behavior making them feel very or extremely upset or afraid.
Can we completely eliminate cyber-bullying? No. Can we help make parents more aware and school administrators more responsive? Yes. Can we make our children safer? Absolutely.