HEIDELBERG, Germany - As youth become more cyber savvy, so do instances of cyberbullying, a form of harassment that occurs as e-mail, Instant Messaging, chats, texting and sexting (sexual texts) and on Web sites.

Cyberbullying is enough of a concern in Department of Defense schools that Heidelberg High School principal K.J. Brewer sent a letter home to parents Dec. 2 warning of the dangers as students have more time during holidays and cold winter days.

"Our students will be spending more time indoors and for many that means spending more time on a social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace," he wrote. "Teenagers ... often spend hours daily posting and socializing. While there are many positive aspects about these sites, an unfortunate reality is the associated misuse ... in the form of cyberbullying."

Like many schools, the high school has blocked access to social networking sites and a big part of the reason is the cyberbullying could happen inside the school the same way it occurs off school grounds - 24/7 and by anyone.

Even though the sites are blocked, Brewer said, "that doesn't stop them from texting."
Mannheim High School principal Shelia Smith said cyberbullying starts off school grounds then inevitably makes its way into the school and becomes part of the day.
"(We) just had one on Friday," Smith said. "Nothing really major. It is just so time consuming to get to the root of the issue ... mainly girls just talking about other girls and then it spills over into school."

Brewer, Smith and educators throughout the U.S. Army Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg community have conversations about it often.
"We talk about educating parents," Brewer said. "When (students) are on the Internet and it's there for everyone to see, it doesn't go away. When it spills over, schools do what we can to stop it here but it's the long term effect that nobody has a handle on."

But encouraging parents who are less knowledgable about cyberspace than their children to monitor Internet usage is difficult. "Some parents may find it daunting," Brewer suggested.
Still, the conversation helps teach children about using the Internet and phones responsibly.
"Sit around the table and talk to kids about it and ask, 'How would you feel if this happened to you'' Kids say hurtful things."

Hurtful words, seen time after time by a cyber victim, make their mark.
"Would the parents want to know'" asked Brewer. "How could the parents help that kid'"
Neither Mannheim or Heidelberg has seen an increase in the number of incidents at school but both principals are concerned.
"I just think parents need to know what their child is doing online and have access to their social networking sites," Smith said.

A resource for parents is the National Crime Prevention Council. Its publication "Stop Cyberbullying Before it Starts" provides tips for parents about how to approach their children.
"No longer can parents count on seeing the tell-tale physical signs of bullying-a black eye, bloody lip, torn clothes," says iSafe.org, a leader in Internet safety education. "But the damage done by cyber bullies is no less real, and can be infinitely more painful."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16