As a high school teacher, I’ve spent decades dealing with bullies, and they haven’t changed much. What has changed is the number of platforms available to them to spread their hateful attacks and avoid accountability for their harmful actions.
Social media has connected us in ways I never could have imagined when I started teaching twenty-four years ago. It has been incredible to reconnect with students I taught in the past who I would most likely not have seen or heard from again without Facebook or Twitter.
The benefits of social media are truly incredible, but these new platforms have also given the most destructive voices in our communities a megaphone to spread their hateful message.
Nationally, white supremacists have used social media to reignite a loathsome movement that had been dormant for decades. More locally, social media has been utilized by school bullies to extend their cruel attacks beyond the classroom outside of school hours.
Cyber bullying has been an increasing problem for all children. It not only damages self-esteem, which can interfere with a student’s future, but it also increases the likelihood of girls engaging in self harm, such as cutting. Young victims of bullying are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and ten percent actually attempt to take their own lives at some point.
Cyber bullying is especially insidious because of the anonymity it provides the abusers. Some bullies are very willing to torment someone online under a pseudonym in a way that they wouldn’t have the courage to do in person. This was the case with a 12-year- old girl who took her own life after being targeted by anonymous bullies.
In the past, students that were victimized had the option to take the drastic step of moving to a new school or community, but social media has removed the geographical boundaries to empower bullies to follow their victims from place to place.
Another example, that of Amanda Todd demonstrates that this is truly a societal problem. Amanda’s reputation was attacked, she was bullied, and beaten. Her parents tried to protect her by switching schools, but the persecution continued online until she took her own life.
Amanda’s case was unique because her bully was an adult. For past generations, bullies are have usually been their victim’s peers. Today, technology has not only expanded the ways children are bullied, but also the number and type of attackers.
This is an important issue when we consider the health and welfare of the next generation. To ensure that our society remains strong in the future, we must do more today to put an end to bullying and protect children so they can reach their full potential.
Cathy Myers is the vice president of the Janesville (WI) School Board and was a high school teacher for 23 years. Myers is also a Congressional candidate for Wisconsin’s 1st District. Cathy is an inspiration to her family and an avid motorcyclist. Find her on Twitter @CathyMyers