The effort to combat cyberbullying has a big local influence.
Susan England-Lord, an extension associate professor with the WVU Extension Service, has been working with Del. Linda Phillips to develop curricula for cyberbullying prevention that will be used statewide. “We got a grant (from the Legislature) to write a curriculum,” said England-Lord. “Every school teacher in the state is going to have to have cyberbullying prevention training.”
The curriculum for grades 7-12 has been completed. “It’s called ‘I Respect,’” England-Lord stated. “I respect myself, I respect others and I respect technology.”
West Virginia citizens for the title online, she reported, was later voted on at the Legislature on WVU Day.
“We’re trying to get the word out that cyberbullying is against the law,” England-Lord remarked. “It’s part of the harassment code of West Virginia.”
She cited statistics on youth suicides attributed to cyberbullying. It affects education as well. “There are 165,000 chidren in the United States today not going to school because of cyberbullying,” she noted.
Facebook, Twitter and other social media have become vehicles for bullying, England-Lord reported. “It’s incessant,” she said. “What I find with adults is they don’t understand. People are surprised because they know it exists, but they didn’t know it was to this level. Young people as young as eight are being constant victims of cyberbullying.”
Wyoming County is not exempt.
“In the past year, I’ve gone to almost every school in the county,” England-Lord remarked. “I have young people or parents or principals call me every single day and say help me deal with this situation.”
One of the new trends is the “hate box,” a cyber version of the self-mutilation or “cutting” phenomenon. “Kids are saying tell me what you dislike about me,” England-Lord said. “They are mutilating themselves in an emotional way.”
Texting is a common way to deliver hate messages. “A lot of young people won’t tell (what’s happening),” she noted, ‘because they don’t want to lose that cell phone.”
“It’s going to take everybody concerned about young people to be a part of the solution (to cyberbullying),” she commented.
Local schools have been supportive of the anti-cyberbullying effort.
“Multiple schools have called and sked to be a part of this program,” said England-Lord. “Faculty, staff, school board administrators want to find a solution for this or a way to curtail what’s happening.”
England-Lord recently visited Washington, D.C., where she met with Rep. Shelly Moore Capito and aids of other representatives to talk about the issue.
“They know the stastistics, but I don’t think they realized how prevalent it is,” she observed. “They were willing to talk about it and and talk about solutions.”
Training school personnel on the cyberbullying prevention curriculum will take place in August.
“This has become a passion of mine,” said England-Lord. “I hope we’re making a difference. And you talk about a champion, Linda Phillips is champion of this cause.”