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Article of Interest - Bullying in Schools

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Internet Bullying Hits Home For Teen
Joyce Pellino Crane, Boston Globe, June 30, 2005
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Life threw Molly Reddington a few curveballs this school year, but she didn't expect a dose of cyberworld cruelty to go with it.

While she was on a school trip to Costa Rica in April, a handful of Reddington's so-called friends at Milton High School went to a popular Internet website and created sexually explicit journal entries in her name, making it appear as if she were having immodest exploits while overseas.

It was a cruel lesson in how alter egos can emerge on the Internet from beneath the cloak of anonymity, injure feelings, and escape with few consequences. The Milton 10th-graders were merely admonished for what they did: entering a world of conflict and cyberbullying that many parents know little about and that many school officials seem helpless to prevent.

Cyberbullying "is a growing problem," said Jacqueline Klosek, a New York lawyer who is employed by Boston-based Goodwin Procter. "There's a lot more attention being focused on it as of late. The use of the technology is very high and growing among children." Klosek's practice focuses on issues related to data privacy. She also drafts and negotiates technology agreements and conducts legal audits of websites, according to the legal firm's website.

At Abington's Frolio Junior High School, assistant principal Robert F. Murphy said he has handled about a half-dozen minor Internet incidents, in which insults made through cyberspace landed heavy on someone's heart, this school year.

"One day they could be friends," he said of the students, "and they send a message and somebody gets mad at what's being said, and they have an argument."

Murphy said the school's key concern is to make sure the controversy begun on a home computer doesn't escalate at school.

"Most of what we do is mediation, because if it happens at night on the home computer, our authority is limited," he said.

Cyberbullying plagues the virtual world of many teenagers, and adds another layer of complication to their lives. Reddington, 16, returned form Costa Rica to find her friendships were fractured and her trust shattered.

"I keep asking myself why they would do such a thing -- because there was nothing I had ever done to make them hate me," she said.

The postings were entered on LiveJournal.com, a website where users share journal entries, called blogs, with friends. Reddington's sister Amanda, 18, said she discovered the degrading entries while reading a variety of postings.

Blogs are web logs that are regularly updated entries on any subject of the writer's choice, and e-mailed or shared through links on the Internet. There are numerous blogging sites that require users to register personal identifying information, and to abide by the site's rules and regulations. LiveJournal's basic offering is free, though users could upgrade their service for a fee. Other popular avenues for cyberbullying among teens include e-mail messaging, website creations, and instant messaging -- a service provided by America Online and Microsoft that enables individuals to carry on multiple text conversations simultaneously.

Cyberbullying has become so prevalent among secondary school students nationwide that the subject was featured in a People magazine article in March. But the issue has been brewing for several years, since online communication became fashionable and accessible.

Five years ago, when Danielle Cameron was 13, two 11-year-old neighborhood girls entered an America Online chat room pretending to be her. At their family computers, inside their Duxbury homes, and without Cameron knowing, they connected with an older man and gave him Cameron's personal contact information. When his online requests to meet landed in Cameron's inbox, the police were called.

"I didn't know who this guy was," said Cameron, now a sophomore at Fairfield University in Connecticut. "He said he wanted to meet me. It was scary."

Kevin Krim, head of subscription services for San Francisco-based Six Apart, the parent company of LiveJournal.com, said impersonators are immediately locked out of the website once they are discovered.

"We suspend it, and immediately the content goes away," he said. "As a followup, we typically try to find out who created it. If they are a member of the community, we will try to suspend their account as well."

Reddington was one of six friends, ages 15 and 16, who were posting legitimate journal entries to the website earlier in the school year. But things turned sinister when two members of the group posed as Reddington and described her sexual involvement with a Costa Rican named Juan.

"Hey lovies, still in Costa Rica getting a nice tan!" wrote the impersonators. "I was in the elevator going to my room last night and it stopped all of a sudden. The only other person in there was this older man named juan. [sic] His hands were so gentle and loving. I thought I could be there all night justss [sic] stuck in the elevator . . ."

Reddington said when she returned from her trip to learn of the prank, she fell apart emotionally. In December she had lost her father after a brief illness, and her 16-year-old best friend was critically ill. The friend died this month.

"It saddens me that there are people in this world who kick somebody when they're down," said Reddington. "With everything I've been through so far, it was one last thing that I couldn't hold anymore."

Faced with the first incident of its kind at the school, Milton High principal John Drottar said administrators helped resolve the matter. "The assistant principal in our Resource Center met with the kids concerned," he said. "We told them that was unacceptable, and they shut down the site and were apologetic."

Not satisfied, Reddington's mother, Catherine Reddington, filed a report with the Milton Police Department, only to learn there was little, if any, protection from the arrows flying at her daughter.

"I'm not aware of any legislative act that would put this in a crime context. . . . They identified the people involved," said Police Chief Kevin Mearn. "There was an apology and a stern admonishment not to engage in this type of activity."

Klosek said she expects the laws to tighten in the future.

"Bullying that used to take place off line is much more prevalent online. . . . Parents and educators are becoming concerned," she said. "Because of that, we'll start to see increased legislation at the state level."

Most local schools have imposed technical restrictions to their computers. At Milton High, network administrator Robert Pattison said, students are allowed to use sites like Hotmail and Yahoo that provide e-mail access, since the school system does not provide another means of online communication between students and teachers.

But the district does use filtering software to comply with federal government requirements to prevent access to inappropriate websites, said technology director Michael Goodless. The software would not automatically block a legitimate blog site like Livejournal.com; however, since Reddington's experience, school officials have made that site inaccessible from the schools, he said.

Despite the precautions, Reddington still stings over her vulnerability.

"Anyone in the world could read this stuff," she said of the cruel postings. "Anyone in the school could say, 'Wow, look, that's Molly Reddington. Look at what kind of person she is.' They could judge me by what other people wrote about me."

Parent Q&A: Child Must Understand That Bullying Is Never OK
John Braccio, Lansing State Journal, July 12, 2005

QUESTION: I recently heard my 10-year-old daughter talking about how mean she and her friends are to a girl that rides the bus with them to school. They call her "four eyes" because of her thick glasses and say she's "weird" and "ugly." They seemed proud of themselves.

I went in and said I could not believe what they are doing. The two girls were sent home, and I really gave it to my daughter. She tried to defend herself, then quit and cried after I said how horrible it was to do what she did.

I called the mothers of the other girls. They are friends of mine and agreed completely with me. I called the home of the girl who the children had made fun of and apologized to her mother on my part and had my daughter apologize to her daughter. The mother thanked me.

I feel I did the right thing. My husband said I overreacted and should have let them work it out. What do you think?

ANSWER: I think you did the right thing in firmly letting your daughter know her behavior was terrible and totally unacceptable to you.

You need to explain to her why bullying is unacceptable. Try to help her understand how bad she would feel if she were treated the same way. You can do this in a firm and loving manner.

However, regarding the other child who was made fun of, it would have been better to call the principal for some direction. In today's world, it was a risk to call her without knowing what reaction she might have. It would still be a good idea for you to call the principal to explain what happened and make sure this bullying does not happen again.

I disagree with your husband that you overreacted. While it is a part of good parenting to not overinvolve ourselves in every problem our children have, it does not relate to this situation.

Your daughter must learn that bullying is totally inappropriate. Good parenting requires that it be extinguished immediately before it ends up as an ingrained behavior.

Answered by John Braccio, Ph.D., director of Regional Psychological Services in East Lansing.

     

Mass. AG Unveils Guidelines to Help Fight Bullying in Schools
Kimberly Atkins, Boston Herald, June 27, 2005

Seeking to cut down on bullying and bigotry-based crimes in the state's schools, Attorney General Tom Reilly has unveiled a plan to give students, parents and teachers new tools and guidelines to deal with schoolhouse harassment.

"It was pretty obvious school districts, teachers and administrators needed some help with a consistent set of policies and standards," Reilly said, adding that the plan would help school districts set clear standards on classifying and punishing such incidents.

For more information, contact the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office by visiting http://www.ago.state.ma.us/.

 

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