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Bullying questions answered

By Staff | Dec 24, 2010

As teen suicides continue to make national headlines, members of the local community consider the impact bullying has on kids and young adults.

Tyree Sterling, a certified life skills speaker out of Hagerstown, has given educational presentations in local schools for the last 10 years and was recently scheduled to speak with the students at Shepherdstown Middle School about ways to deal with bullying.

Sterling, who decided to focus his workshop primarily on the topic of bullying about two years ago, noticed its continued prevalence among the middle schoolers he spoke to.

For Sterling, who teaches strategies related to dealing with traditional forms of bullying in the schools, there are various causes for bullying.

Sterling said bullying could stem from students feeling like they don’t have a voice at home because their parents don’t demonstrate good communication or are disrespectful.

“Students act out at home or hold it in and act out at school,” he said.

Students may also choose to bully out of a perceived social pressure. Students may try to mimic the behavior of “cool kids” and view bullying as a way to fit in. Causes could be cultural in nature or racially based, and socioeconomics can also play a role, when more affluent children pick on those with less money.

“Anytime one student tries to put another student down or makes them feel inferior, that’s bullying,” Sterling said.

As traditional forms of bullying continue to be an issue, a new form of bullying has many worried the problem is only getting worse.

Senior Trooper Will Garrett heads the Task Force Against Internet Crimes, a division of the Crimes Against Children Unit in the West Virginia State Police Department. The task force works to offer education and prevention techniques for cyberbullying, “sexting” and child pornography associated with texting.

Garrett presents on cyberbullying in schools, community outreach centers and churches around tri-county area as part of a program that the state police began two years ago.

Garrett said parents and teachers are becoming increasingly concerned about bullying via text message and on the Internet, especially by way of social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook.

“Parents want to know how to monitor their kids,” he said.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, bullying of this type is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.”

It is also known as, “electronic bullying,” “e-bullying,” “SMS bullying,” “mobile bullying,” “online bullying,” “digital bullying” or “Internet bullying.”

Garrett said West Virginia cyberbullying now falls under the blanket category of “computer and telephone harassment,” which is considered a misdemeanor crime.

Garret believes cyberbullying has become a common problem locally and argued that its very nature makes it a serious concern.

“It’s 24/7. It never ends. Before, home was a safe place; now they can’t escape,” he said. “That makes it so much more dangerous than regular bullying.”

Garrett said he would not be surprised if the state government moves to specifically address cyberbullying in the next of couple years and encourages parents and teachers utilize resources available to combat the issue.

More information on cyberbullying and Internet safety can be found at www.Netsmartz.org and www.cyberbullyalert. com.