Legislation tackles cyberbullying

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As students, parents and educators gear up for the new school year, elected officials are tackling the growing problem of cyberbullying.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation last month that is designed to shed light on the hazards of cyberbullying and require educators to respond to such attacks as soon as they happen.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo is applauding the move. He told The Courier that the new bill expands the definition of harassment to include cyberbullying – a form of online behavior that has become both prevalent and sometimes deadly.

“Bullying used to be a push or shove, taunting. Now it’s the push of a button,” Addabbo said. “With the click of a button, thousands, if not more, are notified of a particular nasty message.”

Even though the bill does not go into effect until July 2013, lawmakers and proponents of anti-cyberbullying will be visiting area schools this year to talk about the issue and how to address it.

“Now that the governor signed this piece of legislation we need to make sure that all schools are aware of this bill and it is implemented in a correct manner,” Addabbo said.

Jamie Isaacs, a 16-year-old girl from Long Island who had been bullied her whole life, and the president of the Jamie Isaacs Foundation for Anti-Bullying, will also be visiting schools in Queens to discuss the effects of cyberbullying.

Isaacs said she was bullied from the end of second grade until seventh grade, when she ultimately had to switch from public school to private school. She said a group of 22 students tormented her for years – physically assaulting her, destroying and stealing her property and calling her names. The harassment followed through to the Internet, where Isaacs had to change her screen name multiple times to avoid constant messages of hate.

“My parents were frequently going to the principal’s office and the school district office begging for them to do something and they refused,” Isaacs said. “District heads said, ‘They’re just being kids they’ll grow out of it.’ The school was completely negligent.”

Isaacs said she is glad to see the new law being passed because it forces educators to deal with cyberbullying.

Addabbo said that cyberbullying has become a growing issue thanks to the increase of accessibility to technology, and the results can sometimes be deadly.

He noted how research has revealed a link between cyberbullying and low self-esteem, as well as long-term consequences that include increased depression, substance use and occasionally suicide.

Addabbo said the new bill should also make parents aware. He said there are different signs of behavior that parents should look out for, including physical abuse and mental abuse.

Maria Concolino, a Woodhaven resident who has children who go to a Jamaica public school, said students have become desensitized to the harsh realities of bullying, especially with the increase of bullying on the Internet.

“If they see someone killing someone on the Internet, then when they do something like bullying and calling them names they think, ‘Well, I’m not killing them,’ ” she said. “It’s making kids numb. They don’t have that line of reality. That line is very blurred.”