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Cyber Bullying

The "New" Face of Bullying

 
   

An Opinion Editorial by Michael Helfand

Your once outgoing and happy child comes home from school and angrily drops his or her school bag down on the floor without saying a word. The child is droopy-eyed and sullen when walking in the door and immediately withdraws to his or her bedroom complaining of a headache. The laughs your child had at one time have recently gone silent and the invitations to birthday parties and “play dates” he or she received just a few years later have dramatically declined.

Sound familiar? Then there is a chance your child could be a victim of one of the most serious crimes taking place amongst young students today, which is severe bullying. The days of taking one’s lunch money and/or knocking the books out of the hands of a less popular classmate are now over and have been replaced by name-calling, rumor spreading and harassment in varying forms due to new communications tools making rumor spreading and name-calling easier than ever for bullies to target their victims. With more and more avenues for communication available for teens and pre-teens, it is now safe to assume that bullying continues on several public communications forums meaning that even when the school day is over, the harassment may not be.

For example, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, took his own life by jumping off of a bridge after just a few short weeks as a new college student. What caused Tyler to jump is because he was being “cyber-bullied” by some peers when a lewd video of him engaged in a sexual activity with another male surfaced to his classmates. Overcome by embarrassment and torment, Clementi could not deal with the bullying anymore and did not want to face life any longer.

According to the OLWEUS website which is a bullying prevention program, cyber bullying can be defined as: bullying through email, instant messaging, chat room exchanges, Web site posts, or digital messages or images sent to a cellular phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) (Kowalski et al. 2008). Cyber bullying, like traditional bullying, involves an imbalance of power, aggression, and a negative action that is often repeated.

Tyler’s story is just one out of several that has graced the headlines detailing a life lost due to bullying in schools, social situations or in cyber-world. But who is held legally responsible when a bullying casualty strikes? This question is especially complex because the internet contains free, personal information about almost anyone. This provides the ability for bullies to publicly humiliate others in cyberspace. Meanwhile, the first amendment lurks in the backdrop to protect the ammunition that bullies so often use- free information. So what happens if your child is bullied or you’re a teacher who has bullying in your class?

If your child is caught bullying and/or school administrators have tangible evidence that your child was taunting another individual and that individual committed suicide as a result of the taunting, your child could be arrested with the possibility of facing serious charges.

Similarly, educators are at risk to face charges as well for not actively reporting situations of bullying or harassment, though it is not a real concern at this time. Educators will not face severe ramifications if bullying is taking place in the classroom, but with the rise of recent press and media attention on bullying things are likely to change. Currently in public schools, most educators are immune from these types of lawsuits unless the family of a bullied child can show willful and wanton misconduct on the part of the educator. This is much more difficult to prove however, than most negligence cases. If your child attends a private school however, then it varies as private schools do not receive the same immunities in these types of cases.

The above require tangible evidence and with cyber bullying and cell phone texting and blogging, sometimes the evidence can be scarce. A positive out of this is recognition from the entertainment circuit. Hollywood, is now focusing campaigns on anti-bullying efforts titled, ‘It will get better’. This is to encourage victims to speak out, and know that no matter what happens, bullying can’t last forever.

Talk to your kids about protecting their private information on communications forums. Parents should monitor their computer usage, cell phone usage and communications mechanisms to form the best plan of protection against bullies and their ammo. Sticks and stones can break bones and words can do more than hurt.

About Michael Helfand: Michael Helfand has been a Chicago attorney since 1997 with a focus on trying to change the way people find attorneys and legal information. In 2001 he launched www.findgreatlawyers.com, a state wide network of like-minded attorneys who talk in plain English, only pursue legitimate cases and fight for their clients. Mike recognized that the unique facts of the case should determine who the right lawyer is for a case. His network makes that goal a reality and the hundreds of lawyers he partners with state wide have achieved unmatched success for their clients.

 
 

For further reading about cyber bullying:

Cyber Bullying Books

Cyber Bullying

Adult Cyberbullying

www.cyberbullying.org or www.cyberbullying.ca in Canada

 

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