State Senator Rene Unterman (left) and District Attorney Danny Porter were panelists for a seminar on cyberbullying held this week at Creekland Middle School. (Special photo: Dwayne Hood)
See something. Hear Something. Do something.
That simple directive on how to stop cyberbullying was given earlier this week to more than 50 local parents at a 90-minute seminar held at Creekland Middle School. The Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute, which hosted the event, invited District Attorney Danny Porter, State Senator Renee Unterman and several educators and technology experts to discuss potential harm to youngsters through cyberbullying.
“We’re one of five safety teams formed by the GNLI and we’ve worked on this for nine months,” team member Tugay Angay said. “We chose this topic based on surveys from parents because they are seeing cyberbullying as a serious issue.”
The program opened with survey findings by Internet watchdog groups which reveal that 80 percent of teenagers use cell phones regularly and 75 percent would give up television before giving up Internet access. Forty-five percent have been cyberbullied and 68 percent see it as a problem. And although 70 percent of teens have seen others bullied and 84 percent have told people to stop bullying, only 10 percent have reported the harassment.
Parents were told that ignorance is not bliss and cyberbullying takes place by cellphone, texting, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, in chat rooms, by photographs and other online communications. It can be through derogatory language, stalking, outing personal details or embarrassing photographs. The ability to reach thousands of people instantly can also inflict great damage to a youngster’s reputation and self-esteem.
The parents were told that cyber perpetrators usually use the Internet obsessively, often late at night and use several online user names. They are attention seekers who want power and control over others. Cyber victims often have little support systems, become withdrawn, have low self-esteem, suffer in academics and are more likely to drop out of school. And the most vulnerable to cyberbullying are kids between the ages of 10 to 13 when youngsters develop reputations with peers.
Porter and Unterman told parents that state legislatures are struggling on where to draw the line between free speech and cyberbullying. Porter said that cyberbullying in itself is not a crime and is usually addressed through civil court. He said prosecution is determined through content and possible harm inflicted to a child. He said they primarily focus on if a threat has been made or if photographs have been sent or requested. He strongly urged parents to monitor their children’s online communications.
“If your child is under 17 years old and is in your home, the only right to privacy that they have is what you grant to them,” he said.
Panel members said the key to combating cyberbullying is in convincing youngsters to report it to adults. Instead of being bystanders to bullying, they should become “upstanders” in defending the bullied. Many parents took notes during the seminar and a number stayed afterwards to speak with Porter and Unterman about possible legalities associated with cyberbullying.
Carmen Richardson has a son in fifth grade who will attend Creekland Middle School next year. She said that she came to the program to learn about potential harm waiting on her son in cyberspace.
“I am a concerned parent,” said Richardson,” and when I grew up all of this stuff (cyberbullying) did not exist. And now my kids are teaching me about these things. I want to be more proactive. I want to do the right thing. I want to be a real parent and not have to have them teach me about this. I am going to self-educate myself.”