POSTED ON DECEMBER 28, 2011:
Don't let a bully win, speak up for yourself
The old days of playground bullying -- with nostalgic punishments like toilet swirlies and wedgies -- have given way to new, more insidious styles of harassment.
Nowadays, bathroom stall slander has moved out of public school toilets and onto the worldwide web.
In October, the National Science Foundation produced a three-part series on cyberbullying, which characterized this relatively new phenomenon.
The problem is primarily found among older adolescents -- in high schools -- and "it's growing faster than parents, educators or policymakers can effectively respond," the report stated.
A University of Arizona study found that 20 to 40 percent of all young people respondents said they'd experienced at least one incident of cyberbullying, though the numbers may be even higher.
District 5 City Councilor Karen Gilbert came face-to-face with this issue in her own home, after her teenage daughter, Karsten, began exhibiting strange new behavior patterns.
"All three of our kids absolutely love going to school," Gilbert said. "We don't have to wake up any of them to get ready" in the morning.
But when Karsten began receiving mean, angry and threatening text and Facebook messages, she "fell into the pattern of not wanting to wake up," Gilbert said.
"She started calling me almost every single day, saying, 'Mom, come get me, I can't stay here.'"
Karsten was bullied at school, but "even when she came home, it kept going and going and going," Gilbert said. Long after the school day ends, kids can continue to email, post, tweet, text and abuse targeted teens.
Gilbert unraveled Karsten's ongoing problems at school after her daughter was called in to the school counselor for a mediation. Gilbert said she and her husband, Tom, were never notified about the problem by Tulsa Public Schools (TPS).
Gilbert is an administrative assistant at Early College High School, an alternative school within the TPS system.
"I went to TPS administration to ask for help with this," Gilbert said. "I didn't agree with their response (at first), and asked to see their bullying policy. And there wasn't one."
So, TPS and Gilbert created a bullying task force. The group met for almost a year and put a sturdy policy in place.
Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation
The new policy "mostly details reporting, and what the administration must do when a student comes to them about the issue."
Just recently, TPS announced it will launch a new online tool called TIPS (Threat Assessment, Incident Management and Prevention Services). "Anyone can call in (or report online) and remain anonymous," Gilbert said.
Counselors and administrative staff were trained on how to use the new system by TIPS creator and Awareity CEO, Rick Shaw. Starting in January, TIPS will allow and encourage students, teachers, staff and others in the Tulsa area to confidentially report bullying, cyberbullying, along with other harmful incidents.
Through a link on the TPS website -- tulsaschools.org -- concerned teens can also report on weapons possession, drug and alcohol use, harassment or intimidation, school vandalism, physical assault, threats of violence, suicide risk, abuse or neglect.
TPS purchased the TIPS system with a nearly $22,000 grant by an unnamed donor.
"TIPS will provide us with one more way for students, teachers, parents and members of the community to alert us to potential problems -- either inside or outside our schools," said Keith Ballard, TPS superintendent. "Then we can be proactive and intervene appropriately, whether it's suspected bullying, harassment or fear that a student might take their own life."
To report on bullying or cyberbullying, just access the TPS website online, and pick through a series of drop-down menus to identify the school, provide a rundown of the incidents, when they occurred and the identities of the people involved.
So, where do these online reports go once you click "Send"?
TPS has designated groups at each school and the district office -- including counselors, principals, school police, local law enforcement and other resources -- to be notified when certain types of reports are submitted. From there, team members can start a record of recommendations and actions taken, along with who has viewed, altered or added to a record.
"Given the size of the Tulsa Metro Area and the number of neighboring school districts, there is the potential for some of this reporting activity to cross school boundaries," said Shaw, who developed TIPS. "We are hopeful that other districts will come on board so we can have the strongest impact possible on making Tulsa schools even safer than they are today."
If you're being bullied, search out support. "The key to it all is to speak up for yourself, and not let the bully win," Gilbert said.
"If you don't stand up, the bully wins," she said. "We need to take a stand."
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