Anonymous Reporting Can Help Fight School Shootings

By Paul Langhorst                       December 17, 2012

FBI School Shooter Report

Click the image above to download "The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective" from the FBI.

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week has reignited intensive review and debate over school safety measures, with the central question being, “What can be done to prevent these horrific school shooting incidents?”

The solution is not simple. These events are often random, fast moving, multidimensional and further mitigated by mental health issues and easy access to lethal weapons. Furthermore, most school shootings are perpetrated by current students, where a student’s behavior and actions are observable by faculty and peers prior to the shooting. However, in the case of Sandy Hook, the shooter was not a student, making any form of forewarning that much more difficult.

If your school or organization is seeking information to help review your school safety and crisis plans in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we suggest you start with the FBI’s “The School Shooter – A Threat Assessment Perspective.” This is an easy-to-read document based on a review of 18 school shootings. This report stresses that there is not a “one size fits all” solution to identifying school shooters and evaluating school threats, lays out a 4-point frame work for threat assessment, and shares conditions that are often associated with school shooters.

In addition, the FBI school shooter report shares information on the concepts of “signposts” and “leakage” that are supportive of the need for anonymous reporting solutions, such as the CyberBully Hotline, to which students or parents can be encouraged to make a report when they sense something is just not right with a fellow student. Per the FBI, signposts and leakage are precursor conditions present in almost all cases of school shootings.

Signposts: “In general, people do not switch instantly from nonviolence to violence. Nonviolent people do not ‘snap’ or decide on the spur of the moment to meet a problem by using violence. Instead, the path toward violence is an evolutionary one, with signposts along the way. A threat is one observable behavior; others may be brooding about frustration or disappointment, fantasies of destruction or revenge, in conversations, writings, drawings, and other actions.”

Leakage: “‘Leakage’ occurs when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an impending violent act. These clues can take the form of subtle threats, boasts, innuendos, predictions, or ultimatums. They may be spoken or conveyed in stories, diary entries, essays, poems, letters, songs, drawings, doodles, tattoos, or videos.”

In light of the horrific nature of these events, your students must be taught that they are an extension of the eyes and ears of your staff. They must be educated on the signs and changes to look for, and it must be continually reinforced that it is okay, and their duty, to report such information for their own safety and the safety of their fellow students. Students are often in the best position to see and hear signs, comments, threats, or writings that could potentially be used to prevent a school shooting. If they have concerns about a fellow student, students must be encouraged and know that it is okay to either talk to an adult or make an anonymous report. This may be at odds with a student’s hesitation to “tell on” someone, but doing so may actually be in their best interest.

If a student is not comfortable coming forward face to face, encourage them to use some form of anonymous reporting to share their concerns. Programs such as the CyberBully Hotline are low cost, extremely versatile, and can be part of your school’s early warning and detection plan.

 

Verbal Bullying and What the UK Royal Prank Call Teaches Us About It

By Greg Howard – December 10, 2012

Photo of teenage girl being verbally bullied by classmates.

The CyberBully Hotline Resource Center gives school administrators tools to prevent bullying. Click the image to visit the Resource Center.

“You just couldn’t foresee something like that happening from a prank call.”

“You know, it was never meant to go that far; it was meant to be a silly little prank that so many people have done before. This wasn’t meant to happen.”

“If we had any idea that something like this could…happen, you know…we couldn’t see this happening. It was meant to be a prank call.”

Those quotes come from one of the Australian radio show deejays behind the now famous UK royal prank call.  In the call, the deejays impersonated the King and Queen of England and requested information on the hospitalized Duchess of Cambridge; the unwitting nurse actually provided information and was subsequently held up for public scorn in the media.  Days after, the nurse apparently committed suicide, and criticism of the deejays’ actions quickly followed. In a recent interview with Australia’s “Today Tonight,” which is where the above quotes were taken from, the deejays candidly expressed how sorry they were about what happened.

You wouldn’t call the deejays’ actions verbal bullying; the deejays made the prank call with the expectation that they would be hung up on and embarrassed themselves. However, this story gives us an opportunity to think about verbal bullying because of how it dramatically illustrates the consequences of one’s actions. Incidents like this may help our young people see that verbal bullying, whether excessive or casual, can destroy a person’s life.

There are three things that should be noted about the interview with the deejays.

First, notice how they express their shock at what happened. Over and over, they essentially say, “We couldn’t have predicted this.” The fact that they “couldn’t foresee” the consequences underlines how important it is to be careful with words and actions. Young people need to know that all forms of verbal bullying, including teasing, insults, and the like are always inappropriate. They should also know that failing to report bullying behavior by others may contribute to the problem.

Second, notice the second quote listed above: the deejay says, “…it was a silly little prank that so many people have done before.” This is a good reminder to adults that young people with limited life experience need help in assessing the consequences of their actions. An undeveloped mind may think that a casual prank or a joke at someone else’s expense is harmless, especially if it is one that has been done before. After all, most of the time, a person isn’t going to literally die of embarrassment after a prank. But the inability to predict how words will influence others, and the possibility that they can drive a person to emotional or physical harm, should make young people think twice about teasing or unkind words.

Finally, note that the two deejays are young people themselves—one is 25 years old, and the other is 30. You could argue that they should be old enough to understand the consequences of their actions, but they obviously didn’t have the life and career experience necessary to understand the risks. If the deejays didn’t have the life experience necessary, can we really expect mature thinking from our tweens and teens? School administrators should ponder that question as they look to educate their students on the consequences of bullying.

Bullying prevention resources are available in the CyberBully Hotline Resource Center.

How to Talk to Kids about Bullying: New Tips for Parents

By Greg Howard

Photo of a parent talking to a teen about bullying.

Visit the CyberBully Hotline Resource Center for helpful bullying resources. Click the image to visit the Resource Center.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune talks about a new development in the field of bullying prevention: the fact that kids are tuning out.

With bullying such a hot topic in the media, more parents are asking their kids about bullying, and many schools are pushing their students into assemblies on bullying prevention. According to experts in the field, many kids have simply had enough of the constant questioning and educational efforts. A memorable quote on the subject comes from Cynthia Lowen, the producer of the movie “The Bully Project.” She states that kids “are at the eye-rolling stage with bullying.”

So, how should parents talk to their kids about bullying these days? The experts quoted in the article offer some helpful guidelines for parents to follow.

  • Don’t just ask kids, “Are you being bullied?” Many of them will respond to this query by saying “no,” either because they see bullying as something that happens to younger kids, or because they don’t want their parents to be upset. Instead, listen closely to what your child is telling you about what’s happening at school, and focus on specific behaviors. Is someone spreading rumors about your child? Is someone calling them names? These kinds of things can fall under the umbrella of “bullying,” but your child may not recognize that.
  • Avoid pressing your kids too hard for information when they tell you about incidents at school. If kids are asked questions that sound accusatory, such as, “Why didn’t you tell the teacher?” or “Why didn’t you just stick up for yourself?” they are likely to stop talking to you. Instead, try to empathize with them and talk with them about potential solutions to the problem. Kids need to feel that you both are on the same side of the fence working on the problem together.
  • Don’t assume that your kids will come to you with their problems. Many kids, especially older ones, might be ashamed to admit they have problems. They may feel like a failure or that they are an embarrassment to the family. One expert quoted in the article noted that bullied kids she spoke to when writing a book on the subject “all reached a place of extreme crisis before they spoke up” to parents. Pay attention to what’s going on in your kids’ lives and talk to them when it seems like they’re struggling, even if they claim that they aren’t being bullied.

We hope that these ideas help you talk to your kids about about bullying.  Feel free to share this article with parents and friends who might benefit from it.

Click here to view the other resources available in our Bullying Resource Center.

Visit the Chicago Tribune article here:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/life/sc-fam-1127-teen-bully-20121127,0,1936239,print.story

Is SnapChat the Perfect App for Teen Sexting and Cyberbullying?

Photo of teens looking at a cell phone picture.It’s hard to imagine a smartphone app that enables teen sexting more than SnapChat. The app, which allows users to text picture messages to friends that disappear after a brief, user-defined period of time, pratically encourages teens to engage in behavior that they may regret later.

What’s most dangerous about the SnapChat app is the product’s central selling point—the idea that pictures sent will disappear forever. If the images disappear forever, a teen might think, they don’t have to worry about them. However, while the images may disappear from within the app itself, there’s nothing to stop someone from taking a picture of their cell phone to capture a SnapChat image.

Moreover, even SnapChat itself admits that not all images may be deleted as they claim! The app’s Privacy Policy makes this clear: “Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after (a) message is transmitted,” the policy says, “we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case.”

As an increasingly popular photo sharing app, SnapChat will likely be around for the foreseeable future. Considering this, the app can’t be ignored by parents or school administrators, as sexting is an activity that seems to be on the rise among teenagers.

Although it has been somewhat hyped by the media over the past few years, sexting is a very real phenomenon among teens. In December 2009, the Pew Research Center reported that 15% of teens aged 12-17 surveyed on their cell phone use said that they had received a “sext” from someone they know. 4% of the same group reported that they had sent “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves to someone else via text messaging.”

Since that landmark study was released, more data has emerged, and it suggests that teen sexting is on the rise. For example, a study published in the July 2012 issue of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reported that 28% of the 14 to 19 year olds surveyed said that they had “sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail.”

So, how can parent and administrators help teens avoid sexting with apps like SnapChat? A recent Chicago Tribune article on bullying suggests some points to consider. Experts quoted in the article counsel parents to assume that teenagers aren’t going to tell them whether they are being bullied. It’s not hard to imagine this being true when it comes to sexting; obviously, no teen would tell their parents that they’re engaging in sexually explicit behavior. The experts also say that parents should realize that embarrassment or shame might be keeping teens from reporting bullying. This can also be true when it comes to sexting, especially if an embarrassing photo has been spread around to a teen’s classmates.

Proactively talking with teens in a constructive and non-accusatory way may help them see the consequences of misusing apps like SnapChat. An anonymous communication program may also help teens come forward to talk about incidents of sexting that would otherwise go unreported.

Cyber Monday Stats and Cyberbullying Facts: Thoughts on Good and Bad Online Behavior

Image of person typing on a computer.Experts estimate that retail sales increased from $1.3 billion on Cyber Monday last year to $2 billion on Cyber Monday this year. Perhaps what’s most interesting about this statistic is not the dollar amount, per se, but rather the sheer amount of good online behavior the numbers represent.

Let’s consider some statistics for a moment. The National Retail Federation estimated that more than 129 million people—nearly 41% of all U.S. citizens—would shop on Cyber Monday this year. Many of those people were shopping with the purpose of purchasing holiday gifts for family and friends. With this in mind, it’s hard to identify another day on the calendar where so many people are doing altruistic, positive things online.

Unfortunately, there is no Cyber Monday style day when it comes to preventing cyberbullying. As we noted in a recent post, there is an International STAND UP to Bullying Day dedicated to bullying awareness and prevention; however, participants generally recognize that day with live demonstrations, workshops, and so forth. There is no day in which teens and adults go online in a coordinated way to stand up for the 42% of students who have experienced at least one instance of being harassed or bullied online.

Perhaps a day should be dedicated to online activities around cyberbullying prevention. Imagine a day in which teenagers everywhere were sending nothing but positive texts, tweets, and instant messages. Imagine the online and offline goodwill that could be generated from a day dedicated to sending positive, affirming messages to classmates and friends. Imagine the lessons that young people might learn about how hurtful words can be.

A day like this would likely never rival Cyber Monday in terms of cultural impact, but it might make a measurable difference in the lives of young people.

 

Visit our Resource Center for helpful online bullying resources.

 

International Bullying Awareness Events Prove That Bullying Is a Problem Everywhere

Image of people participating in International STAND UP to Bullying Day activities.While Americans celebrated the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday last week, people in other countries celebrated a holiday of a different sort: a day dedicated to confronting the problem of bullying.

The 2012 International STAND UP to Bullying Day was held on Friday, November 23. On International STAND UP to Bullying Day, schools around the world celebrated by wearing special pink STAND UP t-shirts and hosting anti-bullying programs.

The pink shirts are notable because of how the STAND UP day came about. In 2007, two high school students in Nova Scotia decided to take action when they heard about a younger classmate who was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. With about $20, they purchased dozens of pink t-shirts for their classmates. The next day, after the two boys sent out text messages encouraging classmates to wear pink to school, hundreds of students showed up wearing pink. The phenomenon then became something of a movement, spreading first to more than 60 schools in Nova Scotia, and then all over the world when news of the events went viral on the Internet.

The Nova Scotia story is notable for many reasons, but perhaps the most important takeaway is that bullying is not a problem unique to America. The American news media’s intense scrutiny of bullying over the past few years might lead some U.S. citizens to believe that bullying is some sort of American-bred scourge. However, students around the world—not to mention teachers and administrators—become the victims of bullying and cyberbullying every day.

When we consider that bullying occurs in so many different places around the world, we must face the sad truth that all human beings have the capacity to humiliate, ridicule, or abuse others. We must realize, for example, that cyberbullying is not about malicious postings on Facebook or inappropriate text messages, per se; it is fundamentally about cruel and inhumane behavior that needs to be addressed. Only when such behavior is openly discussed can it be stopped—and, as many CyberBully Hotline customers have discovered, an anonymous communication program may be just what is needed to help students, parents, and faculty members bring these concerns to light.

Thanks to Black Friday shopping and family traditions, most Americans will probably never celebrate this special day on the fourth Friday of November. However, bullying awareness and prevention efforts can be implemented at any time of the year, and American students and educators should follow the example of their international counterparts.

Addressing the Problems Exposed by Teen Suicide

Photo of two teens mourning the loss of a peer who died from suicide.The suicide of a teenager can devastate a school community, but the loss of a teen to suicide can incite more than just sadness and shock. Sadly, in some cases, teen suicide can open up other wounds in the school community.

A recent rash of teen suicides in a rural Missouri community may illustrate this point. Over the past seven weeks, three students at St. Clair High School in St. Clair, Missouri have died from suicide. Students from both genders and three different grades have taken their lives. The most recent death occurred just a few days before this blog post was published.

A recent forum hosted by St. Clair school administrators was created in the hopes of offering information and hope to the St. Clair High School community. However, despite administrators’ careful discussion about the deaths and a presentation from a mental health expert, local media sources reported that some parents angrily expressed concerns about bullying in the school community. These parents wondered aloud whether school problems with bullying might have been a contributing factor in the deaths of the students.

Of course, it would be inappropriate to speculate on the causes that led to the deceased students’ suicides. But the concerns voiced by the upset parents raise important questions. Is bullying a problem in the district? If so, how is that behavior affecting the students and the school’s culture? Are administrators aware of all incidents of bullying, and are incidents of bullying being addressed by the administrators?

Image displaying webinar presentation on bullying and teen suicide prevention.Suicide prevention expert Dr. Scott Poland spoke about the connection between bullying and suicide in our recent teen suicide prevention webinar. His presentation noted that most studies on this issue “reported positive associations between all bullying types and suicidal risks.”

Dr. Poland also noted in the webinar that many students who have suicidal thoughts are ambivalent about suicide. In one moment, they may want to die, but a positive event a few minutes later (i.e. getting a good grade or reconciling with a friend) may bring them back up again. This idea reminds us that proactive resolution of problems may be critical to preventing depression and other troubling thoughts in teens. Put simply, you can never predict what will finally drive a troubled teen over the edge.

Dr. Poland further noted that students who have suicidal thoughts often tell others well before they act on their urges. Most often, peers of teens who died by suicide say they didn’t take steps to get help for their friend because they thought the friend was “just joking.” Unfortunately, in this day and age where teens seem to be so fragile, every mention of suicide must be taken seriously. Programs like the CyberBully Hotline can help friends speak out and give a tip to a school administrator that their buddy might need help.

Perhaps the suicides in the St. Clair High School community couldn’t have been prevented. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. But the St. Clair School District, like every other district, can take steps to actively address problems in the student body and help those who are hurting. Let’s hope that another teen doesn’t have to die before this wounded community can find healing.

Threat of Legal Action Powerful Tool Against Cyberbullying

By Paul Langhorst             November 6, 2012

A very moving post this morning by Laura Shumaker, regarding her autistic son’s encounter with a “mean text” sent by an unknown individual, serves as a reminder that the threat of legal action, is often a good way to stop cyberbullying incidents. Laura Shumaker, is a writer and autism advocate.

In this incident, her 26-year old autistic son, Mathew, received a text that read, “U are a loser. U have no friends.” This caused Mathew to become fearful and triggered him to call 911, followed by a panicked call to Laura. example of cyberbullying message

According to Laura, Mathew’s autism makes it a struggle to keep friends. Mathew has a tendency to ask repetitive questions and make repetitive overtures to “hang” out with people he may accidentally call or encounter. In this case, the mean texter had been previously called by Mathew and Mathew’s repeated attempts to connect may have caused the texter to lash out in frustration.

The genius in Laura’s response to the texter was that she threatened to call the police if the texter sent any further messages.  While Laura may have made this threat without actually knowing the law in this case, her actions and the results are a reminder that the transmission of intimidating or harassing messages via electronic means (a.k.a “cyber bullying”) is now illegal in most states.  Laura’s reply triggered an immediate apology by the texter, which is rare and commendable on the part of the texter. The texter likely did not know of Mathew’s autism, but realized he/she had crossed a line with their response.

This is a good lesson to parents and school administrators to bring the threat of legal action to the table when dealing with cyberbullying incidents. Before doing so it is important to know your state’s cyberbullying law and the good folks at www.stopbullying.gov make this easy with their website to look up bullying laws by state. Often times when the threat of police or legal action is brought into the discussion, the bullying or unwanted behavior stops.

My discussions with SRO officers supports this. At a recent roundtable event, Missouri SRO’s shared that the most effective tool they have is the law. When a bullying or harassment incident reaches them, they counsel both victim and bully, explaining how the behavior is breaking the law and their action’s legal consequences.

Most kids probably don’t know that their bullying behavior is actually illegal in most states, but adults should, and those that are charged with protecting the welfare of a child, whether parent or teacher, should use the law to the fullest extent to prevent and stop cyberbullying.

 

 

 

More Missouri School Districts Implementing Anonymous Reporting

By Paul Langhorst        October 31, 2012

The trend is clear…more and more Missouri school districts are implementing the CyberBully Hotline anonymous bullying reporting solution. The program, launched by SchoolReach in March of 2012 is quickly becoming the go-to choice for anonymous reporting needs.  Offering text and phone based access, the CyberBully Hotline is designed to meet students where they live – on line, and give them a voice that they did not have before.

“Many of our clients feel they are not faced with significant bullying issues, but still want to offer students a more comfortable and convenient way to say what’s on their mind,” said Joe Palacios, CEO of SchoolReach. “Many of those same customers are surprised to learn after they have implemented the CyberBully Hotline, that they did not have a full picture of what was happening at their schools, on their buses and elsewhere.”

The Affton, Wentzville, Bayless and Hancock school districts are just a few of the districts in Missouri that have implemented the CyberBully Hotline or are in the process of doing so.

The Wentzville school district is a prime case study of a district that was already fully engaged with robust bullying prevention efforts, but yet felt some form of anonymous reporting was needed to help students who might be reluctant to come forward. Upon implementation, the district was pleased to see that students were using the program appropriately to report on matters that were previously not being discussed and that parents were also using the program to report on incidents that their children were reluctant to address with their teachers.

If you would like more information on how the CyberBully Hotline can increase the effectiveness of your bulling prevention efforts, please contact us or call us at 1-800-420-1479.

Effective Bullying Prevention – What Works?

By Paul Langhorst                           October 24, 2012

National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month is coming to a close.  While it has not gained quite the status as Thanksgiving, or our other major holidays, the designation of October as National Bullying Prevention Awareness month has brought increased focus on the problem of bullying and building an effective bullying prevention program.

With all the added attention, it begs the question – what is an effective anti-bullying program?  I can tell you what its not:

  • It is not an annual “stop bullying day” where students get T-shirts and wristbands – if that is the only thing your school or district does all year.
  •  It is not having a speaker come in once, not to be supported by other ongoing efforts.
  • It is not signs or posters in the hall, or a pledge on the wall, if that is the only thing happening all year.
  • It is not a policy in your school handbook, if it is not supported with other proactive measures.
  • It is not a reactive “zero tolerance” policy, if not supported by proactive measures.

Effective bullying prevention is a continuous effort consisting of policy, education, training, reporting, motivation, dialogue, intervention, investigation, action, counseling and discipline/consequences that happen across the entire school year.

Recently I attended the Missouri School  Board Association’s Bullying Summit and during one session the speaker asked the audience members to raise their hand if they did not have a comprehensive bullying prevention program that consisted of ongoing multidimensional efforts as outlined above. The entire room raised their hand, save for a few individuals…well, there’s your problem right there!  Bullying will never be fully addressed if a comprehensive program is not put in place to address it.

As we work with districts across the country, here at the CyberBully Hotline, we encounter schools/districts that fall into two broad categories –  those that have comprehensive bullying prevention plans in place, or are under development, and those that have disjointed efforts, host sporadic events and do not appear to be heading toward a comprehensive program.  The difference?  School leadership. If the school leadership, be it the school board, the superintendent of an entire district or the principal of a single private school, does not see bullying prevention as a priority, little gets done. Those that make it a priority move heaven and earth to put an effective program into place.

The benefits of an effective, comprehensive bullying prevention program are significant. Not only are students spared the humiliation and torture of bullying, but the overall school climate and its cohesiveness as a team will grow. Absenteeism decreases and student performance increases, which can have a huge impact on district funding. There are also cost savings to be hand, and potentially the avoidance of legal bills and financial settlements which are on the rise.

We would like to offer our congratulations to those school leaders who see bullying prevention as a priority and encourage others to see it in the same light. Your students, school and community will benefit greatly.