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Cyber bullying on the rise By Clint Thompson

Bullying is no longer solely an in-person issue. The problem has moved online, and it has University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development specialist Cheryl Varnadoe concerned, especially given that the start of the new school year is just a few weeks away.

With access to the internet at children’s fingertips via their phone, tablet or personal computer, cyberbullying, sometimes by an anonymous bully, is on the rise.

“I think bullying is more prevalent now because kids can do it much more easily than in years past. With technology, kids can bully anonymously — that’s what’s scary,” said Varnadoe, who has worked with children of all ages during her 32 years in UGA Extension. “Sometimes the ones being bullied don’t know who’s attacking them. Unfortunately, there are many phone and web apps now — like Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak — that can enable the bullying of people anonymously.”

Part of Varnadoe’s role with UGA Extension has involved developing workshops on bullying prevention at the state and national levels. She educates 4-H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agents and students about the dangers of bullying and what to do to prevent it.

“We need to realize that wherever kids are, they may bully. We also need to realize what bullying is and what it’s not, take preventative steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen and also make sure the kids know what bullying is and why it’s important not to act that way,” Varnadoe said.

Varnadoe said “bullying” involves repeated aggression by an individual or group toward someone else. The aggressors don’t know when to stop and continuously pursue the person being bullied, whether in person or online.

She added that kids today are more aware of bullying and what it involves, which has made youth today more sensitive to what bullying is and how they can help those being bullied. Not all children react the same to what some consider simple teasing, Varnadoe said.

“Kids tend to pick on each other. They need to realize, though, when they’ve gone too far. Traditional teasing — and there’s going to be a lot of that amongst kids and amongst friends — can go too far, and kids need to know when to stop.”

According to Varnadoe, bullying is scary because any child can be a bully, given the right circumstances. Factors like a broken home or unstable family environment may contribute to bullying behavior, but there’s not a profile for what a bully looks like.

“Some people who bully, particularly those online, are not what you would define as the traditional schoolyard bully. They may look like an average kid, but exhibit bullying behavior. When you think about it, though, what does a bully really look like? It could be anybody,” Varnadoe said. “Somebody that may feel threatened by others may, in turn, turn into a bully. They may take on a bully’s behavior to prevent being threatened or for self-protection. There’s not really a set descriptor for a bully. It really could be anyone in any place in any situation.”

Varnadoe suggests these guidelines for parents to share with their children:

– It is not possible to avoid all conflict. Learn how to handle conflict while treating yourself and the other person with dignity.

– Think of an in-the-moment strategy. Take a moment to take a deep breath and then address the bad behavior by trying to find the courage to voice your feelings.

– Stop and strategize where and when you are going to talk to the person, explain what you don’t like, affirm your right to be treated with dignity and acknowledge anything you may have done to escalate the problem.

– Ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness. Reporting bullying is not snitching.

– Don’t ignore bullying when you see it. Although it is scary to witness bullying in person or online, it is important to speak out. Report it to an ally.

For more information, contact Varnadoe at 706-542-4H4H or by email at cv4h@uga.edu.

(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)

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