The Signs of Abuse

With the holiday season here, I would like to touch on a topic that can make the difference in a young person’s holiday cheer.  It is prevalent in our schools and homes:  Cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking is NEVER called cyberbullying.

It is important to remember, that even though minors are involved, cyber bullying can rise to the level of being a criminal offense.  The State of North Dakota passed anti-bullying legislation this year that defines bullying in schools to include cyberbullying.  It also provides guidelines for districts on procedures, education and reporting that they will be implementing.  It is not a law by which someone can be charged.  There are a number of current ordinances that can be used for bullying offenses, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies depending on the conduct.  The most common one for cyber bullying would be harassment.

Some common warning signs parents can look for that may indicate your child is being cyber-bullied can include:

  • Overuse of cell phones (texting) or the Internet
  • Withdrawal from social activities or family functions
  • Grades that begin to slip
  • Anxiety or depression that is not normal
  • Inattention or lack of focus – Are they easily distracted?
  • Insomnia – Most kids do not have trouble sleeping unless there is a problem

Things parents can do if they suspect their child is being cyberbullied:

  • Ask questions – What is going on? What is bothering you?
  • Keep good lines of communication open – let your child know they can talk to you
  • Intervene if appropriate – let the school counselor, principal or SRO know
  • If it rises to a level of harassment or worse, get the legal system involved, and call police

What can schools do when so much of the cyber bullying happens after school hours, at night when kids are home?

    • Train staff to keep an awareness of their students and changes in their behavior
    • Keep a line of communication open so students know they can come in and talk to teachers, counselors, principals or the SRO
    • They need to be comfortable in reporting for themselves or others, or just to ask questions
    • They may have been up all night on their phone or the internet
    • These may be warning signs you should tell a parent or counselor about       
    • Teachers, be aware if you have a student whose grades suddenly begin to slip for no known reason, or;
    • You have students who are falling asleep in class

Our District is working on education for both staff and students in the area of bullying.  We have a written policy in place on bullying.  Schools all have individual programs to address awareness about bullying and trying to empower students to take a stand.  Cyber bullying has seriously increased the power of bullying because it can go on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the safety of your own home.  It isn’t like the old days when you only had to worry about the bully stuffing you in a locker or stealing your lunch money at school.  Everyone needs to take an active part in stopping the problem of bullying.  If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.  Let’s all be part of the solution.

(Kim Claus is the School Resource Officer at Discovery Middle School.  She can be reached at clausk@fargo.k12.nd.us.)

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