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Aldine ISD tackles cyberbullying

Friday, May 14, 2010

You know them from your own childhood, the bullies -- the mean girls, or boys. But now armed with cell phones and keyboards, cyberbullies are hiding behind a veil of secrecy, victimizing fellow students and tormenting classmates, while remaining totally anonymous.

Cyberbullying takes many forms. It can be a slam on Facebook, explicit photos emailed around a class, anonymous text messages meant to inflict pain.

Phoebe prince, 15, couldn't take that pain any longer. The Massachusetts girl hanged herself, after three months of unrelenting torment by nine other teenagers via text messages and Facebook. But this isn't an isolated problem among vicious high schoolers. It starts early, and the cyberbullies are everywhere.

"Increasing in high school, but you'll see a lot of that in middle school, too," says a ninth grader with whom ABC13 spoke.

At Aldine ISD's MacArthur Ninth Grade School, we found a girl who is a popular soccer player, a good student, and an admitted cyberbully.

"I didn't like her, so I started telling her things she didn't want to hear," the girl said. "She was kind of overweight, we'd be like, 'Go lose weight,' like, 'You're ugly, you have no life.'"

She admits to being the ringleader of a group of bullies, targeting another girl.

"I think it's easier because you're hiding behind something, and usually, people wouldn't be bold enough to go say it in front of somebody else," the girl said. "And it's really messed up to the person you're doing it to, because they have no idea who you are."

"It is so terrifying because there is no escape from it," cyberbullying expert Akilah Willery said.

It's such a problem in schools around the country that Aldine ISD is taking drastic measures. Akilah Willery now has the job of training teachers and students to recognize and stop cyberbullying in its digital tracks.

"This type of cyberbullying can happen anytime, day or night," she said.

Willery said what may surprise you is that cyberbullies aren't necessarily bad kids.

"Kids will have participated in this type of thing, and they don't realize that it's harmful," she said. "The less aggressive kids sometimes can become more antagonistic when they're hiding behind a screen name."

Parents are often worried about their kids being targeted, but few would ever believe their child might actually be the cyberbully.

"I may be the good girl. I may be the straight-A student; I may be the star athlete, but you'll never know who is harassing you, because I'm anonymous," Willery said.

The methods used are limited only by the technology and the child's imagination. And the cyberbully one moment can become the victim the next time.

Willery says the most important thing is tell your kids their actions can hurt others. And if they become a target, take these steps:

Block or delete the bully
Save the evidence
Share with school officials and law enforcement
Encourage kids not to forward anything that is hurtful to others
Monitor kids' online profiles

"I didn't want to take it that far, to the point she would do anything to herself," the self-admitting cyberbully said.

This time, it was a vicious cycle, stopped before it was too late.

Willery has created a website with tips for students, teachers, and parents. You can visit it here: http://www.cyberbullyingstopsnow.com/.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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