Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2017

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Where I Stand — Guest Column:

Preventing cyberbullying is a community effort

In August, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers. Today’s columnist is Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

Bullying nationwide — and in Nevada — has an increasingly negative effect on our children.

My office continues to bring awareness of this issue that our young people face every day.

Bullying can be by physical contact or by the use of electronic communications, known as “cyberbullying.” A form of cyberbullying is “sexting,” a word recently added to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Sexting involves the “sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cellphone.”

I have spoken to young people throughout the state about these issues, and we need to continue the dialogue with them, parents, school officials, law enforcement and local communities.

Bullying in the traditional sense was physical and could be guarded against by limiting or supervising physical interaction. Today, however, with the rise of social media, and smartphones, it has become impossible to monitor every interaction in which kids engage. Any website they enter can lead to cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying can involve name-calling, uploads of embarrassing pictures or video, and constant bombardment of text messages and/or threatening emails. This bullying can take a physical and mental toll on a child. Children who have been bullied may go through extreme personality changes, refuse to work online or with computers, and experience depression, anxiety, decreased self-esteem and even thoughts and/or attempts of suicide.

According to studies, 3 in 4 teens have a cellphone and send, on average, 3,000 texts a month. Of children ages 13-19, 1 in 10 has sent a sexually explicit picture of themselves or others, and 1 in 5 has received one. These numbers are staggering, and as the use and availability of cellphones increase, so does the need to address the issue.

According to the national news, there are two teens who experienced firsthand the very real dangers of sexting. Jesse Logan was an 18-year-old senior in high school who sexted her boyfriend nude pictures of herself. After they broke up, the ex-boyfriend shared these photos with friends, and they went viral. Not long after, the whole school had these naked pictures of her, which led to endless ridicule and name-calling for two months, after which Logan committed suicide.

When Hope Witsell was 13, she sent a naked picture of herself to a boy she liked in her class. This boy sent it to some friends, and it went viral. Over the next few weeks, it was circulated throughout the school, where the girl was relentlessly bullied and called names. Witsell took her own life just two weeks into her eighth-grade school year.

These tragic stories serve as an example of how brutal and relentless bullies can be, whether on the web or in person. The danger to our children and families is more extreme because the development of technology has emboldened modern bullies and delivered their attacks to a wider audience. By partnering with the community, we can raise awareness of the issue to combat cyberbullies and sexting, and build stronger ties so that if a child is bullied, they know where to go to seek advice.

We should be attentive to the signs of a bullied child and report the episodes to school officials and to law enforcement. We must also confront these bullies, who must be made aware of the harm they are doing to individuals — often their school peers.

Nevada has taken steps to combat these cyberbullies by passing legislation: Senate Bill 163 and Senate Bill 276. This new legislation ensures safe and respectful learning environments in public schools. They prohibit bullying and cyberbullying, mandate reporting of bullying activities in public schools, and give law enforcement the tools to deal with and go after these cyberbullies.

However, bullying is not just a state or school issue. It is a community issue. As adults, we must remember that we lead by example. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, guardian, aunt, uncle, teacher, neighbor or mentor, we must teach our kids that tolerance is the norm, not the exception.

By learning to recognize our similarities and appreciate our differences, together we can teach our youth to overcome prejudice and intolerance. And we can start with the prevention of bullying.

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