The Learning Curve: addressing the anonymous, online foe cyberbullying

The Learning Curve: addressing the anonymous, online foe cyberbullying

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ARGOS, Ind. — This week on the Learning Curve— our team is tackling the ever-present topic of bullying.

“It does leave quite a trail. As we know, online, everything you put online post online is there forever,” says Thomas Kinnaird, the Criminal Justice Coordinator for Marshall County’s Bowen Mental Health Center.

It’s been a part of school culture for decades and now, social media is putting the subject even further into the spotlight.

The internet is something many of us rely on everyday, but it’s not always used for good.

The team asked students what they would say is the most predominant or most typical way of bullying here in 2022?

“I think cyberbullying because more people are online now. And there's more connection across different countries and internationally,” said 8th grader, Ioan Petz.

Hurtful messages may come from strangers abroad or people you know just down the hallway.

Our team asked if that stings, the hurt from bullying? Does it change any for cyber versus in person?

“Yeah, it does. Because people can act completely differently in person than what they are like, over the phone. I have friends like that,” said Sydney Lewark and 8th grader at Argos Community Schools.

Even your closest friends can hide behind a screen and keyboard sometimes masked with an anonymous user name.

“One of the powers of cyberbullying is that it can be completely anonymous,” said Kinnaird. “The victim might not know who this is, it could be a person who lives down the street. For me, it could be a person who lives across an ocean from me.”

Through his various jobs at Bowen, Kinnaird wears a lot of hats, all equally important in their own way.

“Provide therapy services and skills, Coach services, to individuals who are struggling with mental health with substance use struggles and things like that,” said Kinnaird.

One of his jobs includes outreach at local schools to help students and staff, like Argos counselor, Beth Schmeltz, get over the digital divide.

“Kids are so attached to their devices,” said Schmeltz.

“It can be phone text, it can be social media platforms, it can be online video games,” said Kinnaird.

“It really I think affects them in many ways, whether it's with their education, or with you know, socially, emotionally,” said Schmeltz.

Our team responded to Schmeltz, saying that must be an overwhelming feat.

“It definitely is overwhelming,” said Kinnaird.

So how do counselors at Argos try and combat cyberbullying? Is that a common thing that counselors hear from their students?

“I do get, you know, students coming in concerned about, you know, someone said something to them on, on, you know, Snapchat, or Instagram or something, or they posted a picture,” said Schmeltz. “They have a group chat going and people are saying nasty things to people within that.”

The very public, world-wide web is where modern day bullies find their strength, which can make doling out disciplinary actions difficult.

“It's often unseen by peers, by adults, unless that student reaches out and says, look at what's happening to me,” said Kinnaird.

“I'll ask if they have screenshots of anything that they may have received,” said Schmeltz. “If they do, I'll, I'll have the, you know, show those to me.”

Schmeltz says once she understands the root of the problem, she puts the power back in the victim’s hands with this question.

“Did you tell them that you didn't appreciate what they were saying, or how they were treating you?”

Then based on the evidence and how harmful the behavior is, she tries to address the issue with those involved.

“If I've had a situation a serious situation come up, I've note I notify parents and let them know what is going on,” said Schmeltz. “I’ll involve our principal in that, because it may involve, you know, something that may involve some type of discipline.”

Both Schmeltz and Kinnaird agree that setting our kids up with ways to combat cyberbullying starts at home.

“The most important thing is building up that student's self esteem and self worth,” said Kinnaird.

Setting up students to stand up for themselves, in a non-violent or reactionary way, perhaps blocking the bully, tightening up your public settings or changing your username, is a good path to lifelong, positive, cybercommunication practices.

And keep in mind, sometimes having hard conversations is key.

“I think parents need to be careful with just barging in and checking things and knowing their kids passwords. I think there's a place for that. Just say I want to make sure that you're safe that you're okay,” said Kinnaird. “So the kids don’t feel like you’re barging in and invading their privacy.”

While every instance of bullying is unique providing tools and a support system empowers students to be up-standers not bystanders.

“I have some tools, I have some ideas. Now I'm going to go talk to my peers about this,” said Kinnaird. “I’m going to be reaching out to adults, I know some things that I can try and letting this be the starting point and not the ending point.”

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