Survey data recently released to the Petersburg School District shows “cyber bullying” as a risk factor in the community and school officials are taking steps to curb the act. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, filled out by high school students last February, compares local risk behaviors with state averages.
Cyber bullying is a form of harassment through the medium of electronic devices and social media.
15.4 percent of Petersburg high school students reported to have been cyber bullied compared to 14.7 percent reported statewide.
While the numbers aren’t staggering—more kids say they’ve been bullied on school property than cyber bullied—school officials and mental health specialists are concerned because of the intangible aspects of cyber bullying.
School Counselor Rachel Etcher said the nature of cyber bullying creates more opportunities for harassment with the creation of apps like Ask.fm—an app that allows users to ask questions and post anonymously. Ask.fm and others like it have come under national scrutiny in association with cyber bullying.
Etcher said kids who might not typically bully another person might participate through electronic mediums because they can be faceless and distant from the act.
“It’s an easy way of doing it without feeling the consequences of seeing their reactions,” Etcher said. “It can be done at one in the morning or at lunchtime. It also spreads so quickly. It’s easy for others to join in and for others to see what’s happening.”
The district distributes electronic devices to students and those are controlled. PSD Superintendent Rob Thomason said it’s difficult, if not impossible, to control students’ personal devices.
“That’s why it’s such a problem because it’s happening out there but the impact is coming in here,” Thomason said. “We know their (school issued) IP addresses. We can stop data from coming in and we can track data where it goes. What we can’t track are their smart phones using a 4G network or after school behaviors.”
Etcher said besides electronic literacy classes and other programs at school, part of the plan to curb cyber bullying is educating parents.
“They’re not aware that these applications are on their phones,” Etcher said. “These things are popping up all the time and so staying on top of it can be very difficult but we encourage parents to monitor what is on their child’s device and how they are using it.”
Etcher’s advice to kids who are being cyber bullied is to not participate in the back and forth comments and postings. She said screen shots should be taken to preserve proof of harassment.
There are also educational links for parents and students, and an online form to report cases of cyber bullying on the school district’s website.
Another statistic on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that 19.9 percent of Petersburg students have carried a gun, knife or club to school—well above the 6.1- percent state average.
Thomason said it’s common for students in rural communities to carry pocket- knives and school officials aren’t going to suspend a student for carrying one. He added he’s seen no evidence of weapons in the past year and officials plan on getting students together to find out exactly what kind of item students are bringing to school.