EDITORIAL: As bullying evolves, so too must the response to it

Nov. 14—Students today have more to deal with than ever before.

Getting good grades, playing sports, applying to colleges, dealing with personal and romantic relationships: it's a roller coaster of emotions day in and day out.

What can make those days exponentially more challenging is having to deal with bullies.

Bullying is a problem that is as old as going to school itself. But today, the problem has evolved.

Rather than incidents on the playground, today's bullies are doing their damage remotely.

The internet and social media have provided entirely new avenues for tormentors to seek out their victims with instant access to information and pathways to inflict damage.

It appears that bullying was the cause of what could have been a serious incident in at a school in Schenevus, a hamlet near Cooperstown, last month when a student was discovered with a gun on school grounds.

While police were able to respond to the incident, it shined a glaring spotlight on an issue that many felt has been unaddressed for too long.

Concerned parents and others took to Facebook to point out that this was only the most recent case of a pervasive, unacknowledged problem of bullying in the district.

It's unfortunately representative of an all-too-common issue in modern classrooms.

The statistics surrounding bullying across the country are striking.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one out of every five students reports being bullied. Those numbers are slightly higher among females (24%) than males (17%).

Reports of bullying are most common in middle schools with numbers reaching nearly 30%.

Perhaps most notable, and concerning, is that less than half of students who say they have been bullied have notified an adult at their school about the incident, speaking to the level of fear and shame that bullying can produce in a victim.

Cyberbullying has become especially pervasive in the age of social media.

Thanks to the anonymity provided by certain platforms, victims are subject to name-calling, rumor spreading, receiving unwanted explicit images, physical threats and constant harassment.

The motives for bullying haven't changed much, if at all.

Bullies seek revenge for having been bullied themselves. They do it out of a sense of jealousy or inferiority. Sometimes, they do it simply because they're bored and it provides them with a sense of excitement.

The methods, however, have changed. It's easier than ever to find out anything you want to know about a person and pinpoint their greatest insecurities.

Teens who say they are constantly online are more likely to be harassed online as well as being more likely to face multiple forms of online abuse.

Enforcing punishment for bullying is something that's often easier said than done.

While many students believe enforcing permanent bans from social media for bullies would be effective, it brings into question tricky matters of free speech.

Studies have shown that when it comes to confronting being bullied, students have far more faith in parents to take action than other authority figures like law enforcement, elected officials and social media companies.

Parents and teachers alike need to take it upon themselves to help kids understand what bullying entails and the negative effects it creates.

This means opening lines of communication and keeping them open, encouraging kids to do what they love and emphasizing the need to treat others with respect.

If this means punishing those who resort to bullying by taking away certain privileges, so be it.

It's become harder than ever to combat bullying and it doesn't figure to get any easier in the future. But the steps to combat this problem are as simple as can be. They simply require the proper follow through to make a positive impact.

— Oneonta Daily Star