I am writing this essay as I have been extremely moved by the recent suicide of a teenage girl in Ireland. Erin Gallagher a 13 year old girl from Donegal took her own life because of vicious online bullying. Her recent suicide adds to the growing number of teenage suicides not just in Ireland but worldwide that have been caused by bullying and cyber bullying or a combination of both. The issue of cyber bullying is something that needs to be addressed immediately both in the home and in schools.
UNICEF carried out a study on bullying in Ireland and the results were staggering to say the least. 55% of children questioned admitted to being bullied in one form or another (Changing the Future, 2010). This essay will set out to define bullying and talk about the different types of bullying concentrating on the more recent problem of online bullying. With the growth of the internet since the 1990’s there has been a massive increase in the ways in which people can be bullied.
The power of the internet has made it increasingly easier to attack and abuse people and the internet also provide people with the ability to hide behind a pseudonym appearing anonymous. This essay will also focus on what supports are in place for victims of bullying and similarly on what is being done to raise awareness and educate children and adults alike. Preventing bullying and cyber bullying is the only way to really stamp out this issue once and for all and later this essay will examine what prevention methods have been implicated and introduced to combat this ever increasing worldwide phenomenon.
Defining Bullying: Bullying can be defined as an aggressive behaviour that causes intentional harm, is often repetitive, and usually involves an imbalance of power (Olweus cited in Jose et al 2012). There are many different variations on the definition of bullying but they all have common factors. Barnardos defines bullying on their website as: “Bullying is repeated aggression, verbal, psychological or physical, racial, sexual or relational, conducted by an individual or group against others “(Cool School Anti Bullying Programme cited on Barnardos 2012).
Campbell (2005) stated that history didn’t see bullying as a problem that needed attention, but rather something that had been accepted as a fundamental and normal part of childhood. However over the last number of decades bullying has become a serious problem that warrants attention. The ease of access to powerful communication tools such as social networking websites, video and photograph sharing sites, internet enabled camera-phones and games consoles means that, all over the world, people are saying new things in new ways to new audiences.
Individuals are sharing ideas and views like never before. Email, instant messaging, texting, and social networking sites such as: Bebo, Facebook, MySpace and Nimble, are allowing children in Ireland to connect with each other and engage with society in ways that were previously unimaginable (Get With It, 2012). Cyber bullying refers to bullying which is carried out using the internet, mobile phone or other technological devices (Get With It, 2012). Cyber bullying shares similar traits with traditional bullying but with extra characteristics. According to R. J.
Hazler (1997) an action is considered to be bullying when: The person being bullied is harmed by the physical, verbal or social/emotional tactics employed by the bully, when there is a power imbalance or unfair match between the bully and the victims, that is, the bully is perceived to be either physically stronger or more verbally or socially skilled than his or her victims and when the harmful actions are repeated over time. Cyber bullying involves the extra defining features that these actions are placed through a technological device such as a computer or mobile phone.
Now that cyber bullying has being somewhat defined it’s important to look at the risk factors that surround it. The growth of technology has aided Cyber Bullying. The issue of cyber bullying is further clouded by the fact that today’s generation of teenagers are dealing with vast quantities of communications that do not have the nuance of tone-of-voice or body language; two factors that play a huge role in how we interpret messages. Technology can be used in many ways to cyber bully. Barnardos released a booklet in 2012 outlining a number of key risk factors of cyber bullying.
Personal intimidation includes actions such as sending out threatening text messages, posting abusive and threatening comments on the victim’s Facebook profiles or other websites and the use of instant messaging in chat rooms etc. to threaten the victim further. Impersonation involves setting up fake profiles and web pages that are attributed to the victim; this also involves hacking or gaining access to the victims profile to contact or instant message others. Exclusion encompasses blocking an individual from a class group or community group on a social media website.
Personal humiliation is a behaviour that involves posting images or videos of the victim that are intended to embarrass or humiliate them. This can be done on Facebook or by text messaging etc. And lastly false reporting, this is where the bully reports the victim to the service provider for a range of behaviours with a view to having the account suspended, blocked or deleted (Get With It, 2012). Over the last number of years parents have been providing their children with mobile phones that have the abilities of sending and receiving texts, calls and that have access to social media websites.
The purpose of providing the children with these devices is so the parents can feel more connected to them and that they can be contacted and be kept safe. But in fact these phones are giving bullies with opportunities to attack and capture children in vulnerable situations for exploitation. Examples of this are of a straight American boy who was harassed by text messages implying he was gay and of a Canadian girl who had returned from holidays to rumours spread by text messages stating that she had contacted SARS.
These comments may seem silly to somebody who is mature but they can be devastating to the young people on the receiving end (Wendland cited in Martin 2005). The Australia Government (2004) released a document identifying what signs to look out for if you think your child is being cyber bullied. Are they spending a lot of time online, having trouble sleeping or having nightmares, feeling depressed or crying without reason, mood swings, feeling unwell, becoming anti-social and falling behind in homework. Recognising these signs is the first step in preventing cyber bullying.
From Prevention to Education: It is important as a parent or teacher or even a friend or family member that you are able to spot the signs of bullying and cyber bullying so that I can be dealt with and even prevented. A difficulty when preventing bullying is that some schools deny that it even occurs within their halls (Besag cited in Campbell 2005). Additional myths about bullying are that it is something that occurs naturally in childhood as a rite of passage, a normal part of growing up that is playful and character building.
I can guarantee that the children within these environments who are being bullying don’t go home and tell their parents that they were involved in a character building episode in the playground that day. Parents and teachers need to be made aware of cyber bullying, because of its predominantly psychological nature rather a physical one, as with traditional types of bullying making it harder to identify. Complete supervision of mobile phones and home computers is a step in the right direction of prevention.
It’s not just enough to educate the parents and teachers but the students need to be informed too. In a study in Australia on year 8’s (First & Second class here) they believed that adults had no knowledge of their children’s online lives and that teachers didn’t even own mobile phones (Campbell & Gardner, 2005). This is astonishing to think that children feel so disconnected from their parents where technology is concerned. Cyber bullying is a complex issue that transcends the school environment.
There are many ways to minimise the risk of cyber bullying, some which can be achieved by the use of simple common sense and others by introducing new policies into schools and community organisations (Get With It, 2012). All schools should introduce an Anti-Bullying Policy or make know a statement by the school that bullying in any form will not be tolerated. All members of a community should be involved in creating these policies as the issue on a whole is a collective community problem and everyone needs to take a zero approach.
These policies need to create a supportive, positive atmosphere with clear channels for reporting cyber bullying as well as building awareness of the issues that can help to reduce the risks and provide an open culture where bullying of this nature can be freely reported and discussed (Get With It, 2012). Ask FM and Cases of Cyber Bullying I think to stop a bully you need to understand why they behave in such a way. The Anti-Bullying Centre Trinity College has undertaken studies to identify factors which contribute to aggressive behaviours in the home and schools.
Some of these include: Lack of love and care, too much freedom, inconsistent discipline, permissive management of aggressive behaviour, violent emotional outbursts on part of adults, excessive physical punishment, cruelty, inconsistent and inflexible rules, poor staff morale, inadequate supervision, punishment that is too harsh, and abusive or humiliating, few incentives and rewards for non-aggressive behaviour, curriculum that affords few feelings of success and achievement just to name a few. Other factors within society include television, video games and other such Medias that portray violence and aggression.
Having being bullied myself all through primary school and the beginning of secondary school I can identify with the research that’s out there. I was an easy target for a bully. Shy, quiet and impressionable and with very few friends I was like a sitting duck. Research has shown that it’s not just the shy children that are vulnerable to attack but the popular and socially well-adjusted can be victimised also. Some children bring bullies upon themselves because of the ways their behaviours cause tension and irritation. Such children often referred to as ‘provocative victims’ may have inadequate social skills or learning difficulties.
Sadly however, research shows that no matter what the true origin of the bullying is, children who are bullied tend to see the cause of bullying in them and feel or imagine that there is something “wrong” with them (Anti-Bullying Centre 2012). All of the literature above outlines the causes and prevention techniques required to put a stop to bullying but for some children this is too little too late. The most recent case of cyber-bullying in Irish media is that of the aforementioned Erin Gallagher. Erin had been the victim of traditional bullying and also online bullying. She had taken to the website www. sk. fm to look for advice on the problems she was having. This website does not require people to use real names and so makes it easier for bullies to hide and feel less responsible for their actions. The abuse that Erin received when she was crying out for help drove her to take her own life.
When asked about the issue of bullying on their website, the founder of Ask. fm stated that; “Of course there is a problem with cyber-bullying in social media. But, as far as we can see, we only have this situation in Ireland and the UK most of all, trust me. There are no complaints regarding cyber bulling from arents, children, or other sources in other countries. It seems like children are crueller in these countries (Ireland and UK)” (Leitrim Observer, 2012). The case of Erin is just one associated with Ask. fm, others include the bullying of Ciara Pugsley who was bullied on the site in the months leading up to her suicide and parents in Scarsdale Middle School in New York who were sent an official email from the school warning them about the website after concerns were raised about the anonymous nature of the site where hurtful and inappropriate material could be used to attack and victimise students.
There has been a campaign and an online petition set up to have Ask. Fm closed down. An extreme case of Website bullying took place in Dallas (Benfer cited in Keith & Martin, 2005). A sophomore at a local high school was harassed about her weight. She called a “fat cow MOO BITCH” on the school’s message boards. Besides making fun of her weight, the anonymous writer also made fun of the fact that she suffered from multiple sclerosis, saying, “I guess I’ll have to wait until you kill yourself which I hope is not long from now, or I’ll have to wait until your disease [MS] kills you. This bullying escalated to action, with the student getting her car egged and a bottle of acid thrown at her front door, resulting in injury to her mother (Keith & Martin, 2005). Conclusion: The Internet has been described as transforming society by providing person-to person communication, similar to the telegraph and telephone, as well as operating as a mass medium, like radio and television before it (Bargh & McKenna, 2004). The internet has provided people with unbelievable opportunities for educating themselves and relieving isolation by communicating through the web just to name two.
People who were previously alone now have contact with the outside world. There are so many positives to the internet but these all become marred with controversy when the internet is used from the wrong reasons with fatal results. I believe what Irelands needs is a National Strategy to combat this increasing issue. I understand that not all schools and community are affected by bullying in the same way but if there was a concrete set of rules and regulations it would go a long way to eradicating bullying.
Too many young lives are being lost and afterwards all that happens is that the issue is swept under the carpet until the next suicide is exposed by the media. Writing this essay going through all of my emotions, trying to say something positive about the internet so as not to seem biased in anyway is killing me. What positives can be taken from the suicide of a 13 year girl? Absolutely none, especially if she just becomes another forgotten statistic in a state ridden with if’s and buts, a state where no action appears to be the only action and where money is more important than the people who are the state.
That simply isn’t good enough; amazing young people are laying down their lives because of failures within society. Failures by parents, teachers, students, TD’s etc. nobody should feel guilt free because we are all connected in one big community and only by getting together and singing from the same hymn sheet can lives be saved.
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