Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Technology: The Bully's New Playground

Cyberbullying is an increasingly serious issue among youth that needs to be addressed according to a group of local teens who were part of a summer leadership program conducted by the Middletown Youth Services Bureau. The goal of six week program was to build leadership skills by becoming community researchers and assist them in taking responsibility for change they want to see in their community.

Last Thursday evening at the Middletown Board of Education, seven high school and middle school aged Middletown youth who named themselves “Youth 4 Change” presented the results of their hard work to friends, family members, and members of the Youth Services Bureau’s Advisory Board which included the Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, and councilmen Joseph Bibisi and Grady Faulkner along with other community leaders and youth advocates.   

As technology is continuously changing and people are becoming more social on-line, the teens noted that new opportunities for youth to be cruel to one another are popping up everywhere.  The students talked about a relatively new website called formspring.me which allows youth to post anonymous questions and comments to each other.  During a simple search of the site, the students stated that they found extremely disturbing comments being made amongst peers, even quoting a particular back and forth which needed a host of inappropriate words to be deleted.  Youth Services Worker, Melissa Robinson, who coordinated the program, noted that she needed to close a formspring page and come back to it later because she was so hurt by things she saw written about several young people she knows.

One shocking statistic that the students reported was that 93% of the youth who were interviewed and experienced cyberbullying stated that they did not tell an adult about the experience.  Chelsea Eason, one of the presenters, mentioned that “communication is key, kids need to feel safe talking to adults about their problems”.  The students also suggested that young people might fear being blamed by an adult for putting themselves in a situation to be bullied and couple that with the fear of losing on-line privileges, students might be more willing to try to handle the situation on their own.

Also relating to communication was an interesting statistic from the survey stating that although about 36% of parents surveyed feel that they are very aware of their children’s online/cell phone activity, only 9% of youth surveyed said that their parents are aware of what they are doing.  Another discrepancy was that although about 72% of parents reported that they have spoken to their children about cyberbullying and how to deal with it, yet 71% of youth surveyed said that their parents have NOT spoken to them about the issue.

During the presentation, “Youth 4 Change” presented ideas to help combat the issue of cyberbullying.  They reminded youth that although you can’t see the reaction of the bullier or the victim, cyberbullying still has serious affects; noting some very recent high profile suicides that steemed from this issue.  They asked parents to continue to educate themselves about what kids are doing online and to continue to encourage open dialogue with their children about cyberbullying. Additionally, the asked parents to keep an open mind and not always assume that their child may be using technology appropriately, particularly when it comes to bullying.

Mayor Giuliano stated that, “We, as adults, really need the participation of young people, who are most deeply affected by this trend, to be best able to provide guidance and protect them from harm.”  He also added that “The work that these young people have done in this arena is eye-opening and a significant beginning to addressing an issue that will, undoubtedly, be with us for the foreseeable future.”

As the issue of core values came up Youth Services Coordinator Justin Carbonella noted the importance of the 40 Developmental Assets in helping young people make healthy and pro-social decisions. He stated that the Youth Services Bureau has been working over the last three years to promote these youth development building blocks and that the more of them that young people have that statistically they are significantly less likely to engage in risk taking behaviors, such as bullying.
For more information on this program and to see the student’s presentation and handouts please visit the YSB website at www.middletownyouthservices.org or visit their blog at www.middletownyouthservices.blogspot.com

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