Cyber harassment becoming an issue at Craig Middle School

Tiarra Schroeder was surfing the Web when she came across a MySpace page in her name.

The page was written from her point of view, and displayed several pictures of her.

But there was a problem.

She never made the page.

During eighth-grade lunch Wednesday at Craig Middle School, the 14-year-old ex­­plained how someone who didn’t like her made the social networking page and inserted hurtful comments and insults.

“They had pictures of me and pretended that it was my page and wrote all these nasty things about me,” Tiarra said. “They’ll just make a fake page and say all sorts of nasty things.”

Tiarra’s experience isn’t uncommon, and it isn’t the only occurrence that demonstrates the widening scope of bully­ing at Craig Middle School and other learning institutions across the country.

Hurtful comments, rumors and teasing are starting to happen outside school walls and beyond the playground.

With increasing access to technology, some students now can use airwaves, keypads and keyboards to bully one another.

To CMS assistant principal Jill Hafey, the result of cyberbullying is the same, if not worse, than any physical act.

“It is terribly hurtful, and it is affecting kids,” she said. “At this age, they’re so concerned with what other people think of them, it affects their self-esteem and their performance.

“They’re always thinking, ‘What’s the next thing that’s coming?’”

Hafey deals with cyberbullying issues on a daily basis, whether it’s an inappropriate text message or an argument that began online and escalated at school.

Hafey said Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace have opened young students up to ridicule and harassment beyond what they can fathom.

“I just don’t think they understand how vast, how open and dangerous this is,” she said. “When they sign up for these Web sites, they have opened up their lives to be commented on. They just don’t know the ramifications.”

Tiarra and her friend, Taylor Dean — who had an experience similar to Tiarra’s — agreed the situation was embarrassing and hurtful when they were asked about the pages at school, but they wouldn’t consider reporting the situation to an adult for fear of further harassment from bullies.

Taylor said she sometimes worries about a dangerous situation arising out of cyber bullying.

She said she knows her cell phone number and possibly her address have been passed around online.

And even though the use of cell phones is prohibited between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at CMS, rumors and comments fly around the school like wildfire via text, said Brook Trail, who sat with Taylor and Tiarra at lunch Wednesday.

“There was a forward going around, a text that said ‘If you hate so-and-so, add a star to this message,’” Brook said. “And there was one for the three of us. Yeah, that one was popular for a while.”

During a sixth-grade lunch period, Blake Ludgate said it’s not uncommon to get text messages from an anonymous number.

“They’ll figure out your phone number and text you mean things and pictures,” he said.

Seventh-grader Cole Walker said he had heard many stories of cyber bullying and thought that it could be more devastating than physical harassment.

“They probably think they can’t get caught that way,” Cole said. “But it probably hurts more people because they can pretend to be one of your friends or someone you know and then hurt you that way.”

Hafey said there is no easy solution to the gray area of Internet bullying. She said most of what occurs is out of her jurisdiction because it happens at home or after school.

“What I really need is the power of the parents, checking on them,” Hafey said. “I would challenge parents, that if they’re allowing kids to open up these spots like Facebook, to be more involved in their kids. I think if they looked at what their kids were writing on these Web sites, they’d be surprised and sickened by what they saw, I’m sad to say.”

Although Hafey said the responsibility for keeping track of students’ Internet endeavors lies at home, CMS offers education about general Internet safety.

I-Safe, a weekly class on Internet safety, includes guidelines on cyber bullying for each grade level, warning students of the ramifications of online harassment and potential dangerous situations.

But for Taylor and her friends, they say the best approach is to try to ignore the attacks and avoid the “drama” that happens in school. Still, she said it’s sometimes difficult to not get mixed up and occasionally retaliate to hurtful comments.

“They can do a lot more behind a computer than they can do to your face,” she said.

Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793, or ninglis@craigdailypress.com.

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