GREEN RIVER — Anonymous social media accounts aimed at bullying students have been reported to Sweetwater County School District (SCSD) No. 2 administrators, but it turns out the issue is not one with an easy solution.
“We have people creating ‘anonymous’ accounts on sites all of the time,” SCSD No. 2 Superintendent Craig Barringer said. “Our principals have been working with the host sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, for the past year.”
The accounts became a topic of discussion at the SCSD No. 2 Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night after Chairwoman Rachelle Morris addressed them.
“I’ve had a lot of folks reach out to me about bullying and issues in the school district and in our community, I think it’s definitely not just a school issue. This is something that our society is dealing with and it’s not ok and we have to get on top of it as parents, as community members. If we see something we need to speak up even if it’s not your kid,” Morris said.
Barringer said the issue is difficult to solve because they cannot access the information of the people behind the accounts. As soon as one account gets taken down, another one pops up.
“The challenge is as soon as you get one site off line, another site appears.Companies like TikTok do not share any information, which makes it even more challenging. The only control over social media sites like TikTok for parents is not to allow their child/children to have those kinds of apps on their phones,” he said.
Morris suggested that parents monitor their kids’ online activity. She added that she recently spoke to the mother of a 12 year old kid in Utah who hanged himself with his hoodie.
“Check your kids’ social media, there’s some horrible terrible things out there on TikTok, Instagram, and it’s very difficult to find out who these kids are that are posting it, but it’s not kind. I don’t want to lose a kid in this district because somebody gets tough behind a keyboard,” Morris said.
She said the mother she spoke to in Utah would like to come speak to the district in the future to share her family’s experience.
“When she is ready, she said she would come and speak to our district to talk to our students and our staff and our community members about their experience, and hopefully make an impact on some of these kids’ lives,” she said.
Increase of Online Bullying, More Complex
While Barringer said that he is not certain if the district has seen an increase in face-to-face bullying, the district has seen an increase in online ‘anonymous’ bullying.
“This form of bullying is challenging and is often shared to a large audience in the cyberworld,” he said.
He said that while the district is trying to shut these accounts down as they become aware of them, it is a difficult situation to fix.
“Bullying is a complex issue that does not have an easy solution. Bullying by definition, through the Olweus Program, is an unwanted aggressive behavior that is repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often what is thought of as bullying is actually just bad behavior. Our principals go through a McGrath form to see if the issue at hand is considered bullying or if it is another issue,” Barringer said.
Barringer also pointed out that bullying has been an issue for generations but that the internet and smart phones have made the issue more complex.
“Developing girls and boys tend to be more impulsive and having immediate access to the Internet allows for bad choices to be made not understanding the consequences from their impulsivity,” Barringer said.
As adults, we have not set a very good model for online behavior for our students. We can’t have the theory of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ and expect better behavior from young developing minds, than in our adult developed minds.~ Craig Barringer, SCSD No. 2 Superintendent
The increase in bullying is primarily being seen in the middle school and high schools, according to Barringer. He said that the district’s goal is to educate the victims and the bullies, but that it has been challenging to do so because of the anonymous accounts and the ever-evolving social media sites. He encourages parents to pay close attention to what their kids are doing online.
“The experts say that if the parent or guardian is going to allow their child/children to have smart phones, the parent or guardian should have stringent controls and easy access to what their child/children access, and even the amount of time they allow their child/children access on the phone,” Barringer said.
Barringer said that about a decade ago, schools were on the “right track” to help address bullying behaviors and responses to bullying in schools. However, the issue has always been complex and the growth of social media has only made the issue more difficult.
“I sat with one of the authors of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program one time. Her comment to me was, ‘it would take a generation to educate students about bullying, because as adults none of us were immune from bullying, because we were all either a victim, a witness, or a bully ourselves’,” Barringer said.
If an act of bullying is brought to your attention, report it to your kids’ school administration.