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Cyberbullying: The Epidemic

How can the community support teens who are victims of cyberbullying?

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Cyberbullying. Is it an Epidemic?

Cyberbully, The Movie

Cyberbullying is an epidemic, it is toxic; it leaves scars on the hearts of many adolescents in middle school and high school. One day I was sick, and I stayed home from school. In an instant at 12:00 pm, I received several texts and messages from peers at school that I regarded as close friends, all random; it was as if I was being targeted. They sent very hurtful words to me, words that no girl or boy should ever have to hear or read. Five days later, I dropped out and transferred to a different school without a word of goodbye to anyone. It all got to be too much on top of some parts of life I was already struggling with outside of school. Now, ahead of all the hurt, I feel sadness for every other adolescent who has to suffer through this bullying, hurting so much that they feel as if there is no hope left. I do not want any more students going through what I did: the loneliness, the hopelessness, and the anxiety. Cyberbullying is a crime- an offense that calls for action to be taken; it doesn’t just stop online as cyberbullying extends to the school halls, affecting students emotionally, academically, and even physically. We need to put a stop to this epidemic and put the safety of students first in schools.

Cyberbullying is an epidemic seen throughout middle schools and high schools all across the globe. To analyze the situation correctly, we must first ask: what is cyberbullying exactly? When does it become a legal matter? What can we do to stop it? Well, cyberbullying is legally defined as: “the verbal bullying of someone (as a classmate) through use of often anonymous electronic communication (as online posts or text messages)” (Merriam-Webster.com). It is a policy that all schools must take action against bullying, but many do not. Bullying is often passed along in schools as just a casualty, a phase, or something the victim just has to ignore. But it is not often that easy. An estimated 85% of students today have witnessed cyberbullying. About 75% reported that the cyberbullying negatively impacted their social lives, and 64% noted that cyberbullying extensively affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school. So many students are deteriorated through any form of bullying emotionally, physically, or academically; many turn to self-harm or even suicide. Why is no one doing anything about this epidemic? Cyberbullying wreaks social, emotional, and psychological havoc in students. Recent surveys show that 93% of cyber-victims experience negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, self-hate, and sadness (MastersinPsychologyGuide.com). Many students who are victims of cyberbullying begin to withdraw from their social activity; they become their own worst critic, and they may start to buy into the hateful words spread across their computer screen. The self-loathing, the self-hate, grows and thrives through the negative rumors and comments seen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and iMessage. Many students, when approaching an adult on the subject, are told that their emotions are not justified, that they are being “ridiculous” and they just need to suck it up. Maybe they are told that they are overreacting and examining the situation wrong. Many adolescents who are cyber-victims feel trapped in their own home; they cannot escape the bullying, as the internet is accessible almost everywhere, and no one will help them stand up against the cyberbully. The students can feel trapped inside their own thoughts, the negative, intrusive words becoming a burden on their backs until they cannot take it anymore.

When these negative emotions reach the peak, many adolescents that are victims of cyberbullying attempt suicide. A study conducted at Yale University found that victims of any type of bullying are two to nine times more likely to commit suicide than a student who is not a cyber-victim. It is also noted that adults who were bullied in their youth are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or inclinations (BullyingStatistics.org). What can we do to save these kids? Upon reading more accounts of bullying and cyberbullying, most cases leading to an adolescent suicide, I found that little to no schools are taking action. Even for myself, with all the different schools I have attended in the past four years, not one person has taken action in any of the cases of which I have been a victim. Students are constantly told that their feelings are irrelevant and they are just overreacting; and look where that got us: so many young lives lost because they felt hopeless, they felt unloved, and they felt irrelevant. All around them were words of hurt, whether they be present on the internet or even thrown around in the school halls, and they were not shown how to channel their emotions into healthy ways to heal. Raising awareness for cyberbullying can do so much for the adolescents today: if only people take action and show them that they care, and that the student is important and worth everything in the world.

Cyberbullying does not just take place online: it can heavily affect a student’s academic life. Andrew Adesman, chief of Developmental and Behavioral; Pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York says that "Electronic bullying of high school students threatens the self-esteem, emotional well-being and social standing of youth at a very vulnerable stage of their development" (AAP.org). Most students who are cyber victims actually know their cyber-bully through school. It has been proven that students who are cyberbullied are very likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school. Due to bullying, an estimated 160,000 students stay home from school every single day. I know personally that this is no myth; I transferred to my current online school from a private school because of both bullying and cyberbullying. Just as I did months ago, many students are putting their own education at risk on a daily basis because they are just too frightened of their bully. Many can also receive poor grades from lack of motivation, as they have no energy to focus on schoolwork; their mind is always thinking over the negative comments, and they are knee-deep in fear of the social aspect of going to school.

Schools need to make sure they are providing kids with a safe and healthy environment. While schools are required to maintain a safe environment for students, many do not. The thing is, if a student does not feel comfortable in school and misses countless days of school, then the administrators need to take action because an unsafe environment in schools can lead to the growing number of bullying cases, students failing classes, and students even dropping out. By not acting upon bullying, the administrators are giving the bully/bullies power to make the school hallway their turf, resulting in many more cases of cyberbullying and bullying arise. In schools where teachers are unaware or ignore bullying, there is a lack of supervision, which allows the bully not only to harass online, but they can now also do so face-to-face. It has been proven that someone who bullies online is very likely to also bully in school. So once schools decide to back off and “let the issue resolve itself,” the bully gains the turf of the school, because what makes someone mean online can also make them mean in school. Also, what makes someone a good target online can make them a good target at school, especially when the bully and victim know each other.

Some argue that the acts of cyberspace are very easy to escape: all you have to do is delete the message or post. But, sadly enough, it is not that simple. As previously stated, cyberbullying leaves an emotional scar on the victim very often, and by just deleting all of the countless emails, messages, or texts, the victim still holds that deep psychological damage, which can continue to grow into self-hate. Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. says that "Some adults I’ve talked to think that it’s just part of life. Some kids are up. Some are down… The changes in hierarchy of the teen years is seen as an inevitable part of growing up. Some adults even see it as a necessary rite of passage to learn to manage a certain amount of bullying… Momentarily being the butt and brunt of some teasing is one thing. To be the target of relentless bullying is another" (PsychCentral.com). Many also argue that when the states pass laws that simply state that schools need to deal with bullying and cyberbullying, there is no specific guidance as to when to take action or how to take action (Cyberbullying.org). However, it is quite simple: the schools, for the time being, should treat bullying as they would a student vandalizing the hallways, cheating on tests; they should suspend the bully, or send them to the guidance counselor. Taking a little action is better than taking no action at all.

Cyberbullying is an epidemic in our world today. Students everywhere are affected negatively by this bullying through the use of social media. They suffer from social, emotional, and psychological damage due to the negative things that are said about them and to them. Suicide rates have massively increased over the past few years, and over half of the students who either committed, attempted, or thought about suicide were bullied extensively. It is important for authorities in schools to understand that cyberbullying doesn’t just take place online; it can follow a student around the halls and seriously affect their academic and social lives at school, especially if the bully is on campus. Many people try to argue that it is easy to escape cyberbullies; they could just delete the messages or ignore them. However, it isn’t that simple, as reading a post online sticks with a student more than just being pushed around school. The words that are said online, whether deleted or not, can still leave a scar on the adolescent. Raising awareness for cyberbullying and its correlation to suicide and depression in adolescents can make a difference in the way adolescents use technology. By teaching students that it is important not to let their emotions and hurt from bullying be kept to themselves; they need to be taught how to channel those emotions in positive ways. Cyberbullying, while it is an epidemic, can be stopped if we make an effort to stand against it.

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