The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 15.5 percent of high school students are cyber bullied (2015) when targeted students are threatened by mean or offensive messages through the use of electronic communication i.e. social media, texting, and email.
Albany County, New York, a county with a mix of urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods in upstate New York, is no exception.
According to the U.S. Census, the population of Albany County is 309,612 (July 2017) with 18.6 percent ages 18 and under.
“At the county level, we are large enough for people to pay attention and small enough to affect people in a positive way,” Michael McLaughlin, Director of Policy and Research for Albany County, said.
Albany County made it a crime to cyber bully, but the New York State Court of Appeals struck down the law in 2014 stating the law was too broad thereby violating freedom of speech.
Albany County has not relented in protecting children from being cyber bullied, developing a HOPE app as a means to help children and teens reach out for help.
“This gives kids a platform to reach out for help,” McLaughlin said. “If you are a target for a cyber bully, don’t be afraid to reach out for assistance.”
To further protect teens and children from cyber bullies, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services suggests following these tips:
- Be careful of what you post online or share through texting especially photos and details from your personal life.
- Set your personal social media profile to private so posts can be shared with only small circle of friends.
- Be careful who you ‘friend’ online or who you start a personal conversation with.
- ‘Defriend’ or block unwanted messages or individuals.
- Be careful about your messages or posts so you don’t mistakenly offend another.
- Don’t respond to ‘trolls’, messages meant to be offensive so others can comment on them.
Erin Weiss, clinical supervisor for the Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center, said another way to prevent cyber bullying is to report it quickly to an adult.
“By not reporting cyber bullying, targets become depressed, isolated, and may take their own lives,” she said. “People should be aware of that and not take things lightly.”
Seeing an increase in cyber bullying, Weiss said youths should talk about it with themselves instead of being bystanders.
“Youth should be careful not the share personal information online. Posting online is equivalent to creating a digital tattoo. It doesn’t go away,” Weiss said.
Parents have a role in protecting their children from being cyber bullied. According to Weiss, parents should be responsible for knowing what’s out there.
“The most important tactic to implement is for parents to communicate with their kids. Talk about the apps their using and open a dialogue,” she said.
The last resort, Weiss said is to remove the device – smart phones, computers, and other electronics – from the child.
“But, if you remove their devices it feels like punishment because parents are limiting positive aspects of electronic communication,” Weiss said.
“Communicating through technology happens so quickly,” she said. “People can post an image or message, another will see it and maybe post a mean comment, another shares it or makes it a mime .The cycle continues.”
Weiss said unlike being bullied in school, cyber bullying lasts all day being a 24-hour 7-day offense.
“Being bullied at school, the bullying stop at the doors after the school day ends. Cyber bullying however lasts past the school day,” she said. “The worse threats are anonymous threats, those messages that no one can trace.”
Visit stopbullying.gov for definitions of bullying, to learn about your state’s bullying prevention laws, school bullying prevention best practices and the latest research.