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Harrison Parents Briefed on Cyberbullying

  • June 14, 2013

The Harrison Report
By Daniel Offner
ADL Assistant Project Director Jason Sirois discusses the dangers of cyberspace with parents in the Harrison school district.

Staying current in the hustle and bustle of the digital age, where people can tweet, text, and photograph any occurrence—from the mundane to the controversial—has made it increasingly difficult for parents to keep track of their children’s online behavior.

In an effort to inform parents in the Harrison Central School District, some of whom may or may not be aware of the accessibility of private information online, members of the Harrison Youth Council provided a two-hour seminar on cyberbullying.
The council’s main focus is to provide free mental health and substance abuse counseling for kids, teens and families in Harrison.

“[The program] is about tolerance and understanding children and the situations of bullying,” said Scott Altabet, executive director of the youth council. “Bullying can also affect the risk of substance, alcohol and gambling abuse.”

Unlike the past, the current demeanor of the grade school bully goes far beyond gossip written on the bathroom walls or physical face-to-face confrontations. Now, through the power of the internet, students have the means to verbally harass and taunt their classmates.

According to Altabet, it used to be primarily disaffected youths who bullied their peers and posed a risk of violent behavior. But, due to the limitless capabilities of the web, the aggressors no longer need to see the person they pick on directly. Furthermore, by providing a veil for the bully, he or she is leaving out any feelings of empathy for their victim.

At the Harrison Public Library seminar, on May 29, Anti-Defamation League’s Assistant Project Director Jason Sirois addressed the topic of bullying in the digital era. Over the past 100 years, the ADL has fought for fair treatment and civil rights for all.

“So much of bullying is based on bias,” Sirois said. “What [the ADL] looks to address is how do you make it cool so bystanders become allies.”

Because the largest demographic of students are those who witness harassment and stand idly by, the ADL has sought to change social norms, so people can address the situation without being labeled a “snitch.”

Sirois also informed participants of a new provision to the already existing state law—known as the Dignity for All Students Act—and what it means for parents, teachers and students. The new provision, which goes into effect this July, serves as a reporting mechanism that requires administrators to investigate any reports of cyberbullying in the district.

However, with all the hype surrounding bullying, some parents addressed the need to draw the line and teach kids how to be indifferent to individual incidents.

“Kids need to know the difference between teasing and bullying,” said Shelly Simon, a social worker with the youth council.

“Students need to learn how to let certain things roll off of their shoulders.”

To address this, Sirois pointed out that the difference between teasing and bullying occurs when it is a reoccurring event.

For Dana McCarthy, the student assistance counselor at Harrison High School, the reoccurrence of bullying is something she had dealt with in the past. According to McCarthy, she responded to the complaints of a teenage student who had just transferred into the district, who received several texts from an aggressor attending her previous school district.

McCarthy said she immediately called the student’s former school district and they responded to the situation. “Now, more so then ever, it is easier to get a student to go to the assistant principal,” McCarthy said, citing the school district’s zero tolerance stance on bullying.

Due to factors such as anonymity, freedom of speech, and online policing and monitoring of websites, it has been an increasingly difficult challenge for the bully’s targets to avoid their 24/7 influence of the internet.

“I think it is important parents [approach their children about the internet] when they’re younger,” McCarthy said. “It is a lot easier than when they are in 11th grade.”

According to the ADL, it is important for the victims of cyberbullying attacks not to reply, to save the evidence, report the offense and protect themselves by getting assistance from school or law enforcement officials.

Sirois concluded by advising parents to keep the lines of communication open with their children and even provided a sample contract for family members to review with their children before agreeing to grant them access to the web.