When I was in elementary school, I had an incident where I was bullied by some older children from my school. To this day, I can still vividly recall the event. One day after school, I got off the bus, the bus stop actually situated in the front of my house. Two other boys got off the stop, as well, following me. I remember being a rather scared and nervous nine year old child, afraid of what was to come, yet knowing at the same time what was about to happen. For some time, these two boys had been bullying me at school, picking on me because I had just begun wearing glasses. As the bus drove off, the two boys pushed me to the ground, ready to put their boots to me, in a matter of speaking. Fortunately, my mother happened to be watching from the window at that moment, and came to my rescue, chasing the boys off. To this day, I still have some anxiety about the event.
What hurt me worse during that time in my life though, was the name calling that those two taunted me with while at school each day, words that still stick with me. To be sure, the old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is one that is false. The truth is that while a physical bruise from a stick or stone may last for awhile, but the emotional bruise from a hurtful word or name may last a life time.
Bullies have been around for a very long time, and I imagine they have since the dawn of man. Yet, gone are the days when bullying was simply calling someone a hurtful name or pushing someone down at the school bus stop. In those days, a wounded child could escape from a bully when returning home, where the bully could not reach him.
Today, children are not able to seek refuge from a bully, as technology has vastly broadened the avenues of hurting someone.
Cyberbullying is the platform in which the 21st century bully uses to inflict pain and humiliation upon another. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to embarrass, threaten, tease, harass, or even target another person. With the use of online technology and social networking sites, today’s bully can follow their targeted victim where ever the child may go. Whether the child is in school, at the park, at the movie theater, or at home, whenever that bullied child has a cell phone or access to online technology, he can be bullied. In essence, this form of bullying can be non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For the foster child, cyberbullying is another wound in an already damaged psyche.
Foster children in particular are easy targets for cyberbullies. Often times, these technological thugs seek out victims who are new to a school. As foster children often move from home to home and school to school, it is relatively simply to spot a foster child. Many times, foster children struggle with school. Placement into a new home for a foster child certainly leads to many areas of emotional anxieties and stress. Foster parents and caseworkers recognize this, and are trained to help foster children with these issues. Teachers and school officials are not, and often do not recognize the challenges that foster children face, including the emotional struggles they battle each day in school. Bullies, do, though, and rush to intimidate them. As the foster child who moves to a new school often times has difficulty making new friends, they will have few friends to defend them.
Yet, even more challenging for many foster children is the place many spend most of their time in each day; the school. Those foster children who were taken from homes due to neglect repeatedly suffer from a number of developmental delays. These include poor language and vocabulary development, thus impairing communication skills. Antisocial behavior may result from neglect, and even poor brain development. To be sure, there are high levels of mental health problems with children under foster care. These symptoms make them especially vulnerable to cyberbullies. Those foster children with special needs are also targets of bullies. Along with this, as many foster children appear to have low self esteem, due to the many emotional, physical, and psychological challenges they face, they are often helpless to protect themselves from bullying, in whatever form it may take. Cyberbullies also typically target those children who are less popular in school.
The number of children who have been exposed to some sort of cyberbullying is astounding. According to one recent study, 43% of teenagers between 13-17 years have reported being cyberbullied. Canadian researchers found that 35% of children using online technology had experienced cyberbullying. Another report found that over one million children, worldwide, had experienced cyberbullying through the social network site, Facebook. Cyberbullying takes many forms. Indeed, as today’s youth as so very technologically savvy, they can use this technology as a tool to bully others. This type of bullying can be done through emails, chat rooms, social network sites, text messages, cell phones, and even websites. There are countless ways a child can be bullied with this type of technology, and the number of ways is increasing, just as technology continues to advance.
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