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Tackling the cyberbully requires breaking down cruel youth social norms

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Last week Tuesday and Wednesday, St. Joseph Marello Catholic Church hosted a seminar for parents on addressing the universal bully climate of the modern child. The presenters were, Bob Lyons, Ed.D, the director of Technology for Nevada Joint Union High School District, and Lisa Ford Berry, founder of BRAVE Society, a Carmichael non-profit dedicated to peer abuse prevention.

According to Lyons, the bully trends are escalating during middle school and high school years at a time when parents are becoming less involved in their children’s lives. “Kids are experiencing bullying because it is has become accepted behavior,” he said. “When students believe that everybody does it, their peers are guiding them and the bullying is verbal, physical and cyber.”

And so the adults are not aware of the level of cruelty children are dishing and accepting.

Ford Berry, whose son committed suicide on his 17th birthday in 2008 because of relentless harassment originating from a rumor that he was gay and completely isolated him from an entire school community, cautions parents that doing everything correctly and by the book will not insulate your child from harm. “We had no idea that the child sitting behind our son, who ate at our dinner table and rode in our car would be the one to inspire such hatred because he thought it would be funny,” she said. “We have to ask ourselves, who is raising our children if such hateful, cruel behavior attacking an individual is considered acceptable.”

According to Ford Berry, the level of hate speech and harassment that adults explain away for youth as "not a big deal" is simply not acceptable for adults. “We have federal laws that protect adults from lesser attacks than what happened to my son,” she said. “We need to set the bar for civility higher for our children at home and in the classroom and deliver appropriate consequences for hate speech and harassment on and off campus.”

Tips to help children confront the bullying norm:

  • According to Lyons, less than 50% of kids talk to their parents about bullying experiences. So parents need to be proactive. Get involved by monitoring your child’s cyber communications. Check browser histories, spot check email communications, Google your child’s name, turn off the GPS settings on camera apps, and clear cookies in browser.
  • Check out the cyber citizenship training at your child’s school. Common Sense Media also offers some excellent tools for parents, educators and students.
  • Be prepared for a possible bully situation. Read the bully policy in your child’s school parent handbook, and look up the school’s policies for making a compliant. According to Ford Berry, California education code requires every school to have a policy for filing a complaint clearly accessible. “Do not allow school administrators to minimize your complaint,” Ford Berry said. “Hold them accountable to follow the law.”

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