Cyberbullying's not just unpleasant, students were told Friday. It has serious consequences.
"People can get fined and go to jail, but even greater, it can destroy someone's life, their families' lives, and everyone they love around them," Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce told an assembly of about 40 students from grades four through eight, as well as teachers and parents. "Be very mindful of what you're saying, if you're going to write something that's nasty and not nice, think about having something like that written about you."
The students and faculty tackled the issue of cyberbullying Friday morning, with an hour-long presentation concerning a problem that affects countless students every day. The school teamed up with Cablevision's Power to Learn Internet Smarts Program to put on the assembly.
"Our goal was to allow our students to become familiar with the nature of cyberbullying and also to develop strategies to learn how to delete it," said Anne Gualtieri, an eighth-grade teacher at the school. "Our point of view is that in addition to the academics and extracurriculars, all of the activities of their lives should be in a safe environment."
Eighth-graders acted in short skits involving bullying scenarios. DeCroce and Cablevision vice president of education Trent Anderson discussed issues of bullying and responsible Internet usage, and offered advice to students.
Anderson said cyberbullying can cause permanent damage, and told the students that posting negative things online about their peers can get them in trouble with not just the school, but also the state.
"It has repercussions for the target, and also for the person who does it," he said.
About 15 eighth-graders performed in a 10-minute long skit about the dangers of cyberbullying. The students acted out a scenario in which one of the students was getting bullied because of an embarrassing picture that was sent around through texts.
The skit showed an example of how students can work together to help kids who are bullied. The students went as a group to the principal to report the bullying, which is what Anderson and DeCroce said a student should do when he or she sees someone being bullied.
At the end of the skit, the students read a pledge against cyberbullying that was started by the Power to Learn initiative. The students in the audience read the pledge out loud together and signed it. The pledge, which will be displayed in the school, can be signed by anyone online on the Power to Learn Web site.
Anderson said employers and college admissions are always checking Facebook, and one comment can ruin a student's chance at a job or academic opportunity.
In an effort to help describe the role Internet has played in bullying, Anderson asked the students what they believe the "hot topic in regard to the Internet" was 10 years ago.
Anderson laughed and told the kids that those sites didn't even exist yet.
"This is telling," he said. "These kids have grown up in a world that is radically different than even a decade ago."
The answer Anderson was looking for was Napster, the controversial music-sharing service that faced several legal challenges related to copyright issues. The Napster brand has since been folded into the Rhapsody streaming music service.
"Today I wish we could go back to that because issues that face the Internet today are far more complex than just music downloading because of Facebook, and MySpace, and Twitter," Anderson said.
He said that the sites that the kids mentioned in his initial question and the increase of Internet usage are reasons why cyberbullying has become so common.
DeCroce noted legislation passed in 2011 to address the issues of bullying. While the new law can get bullies in legal trouble, she said it is really the victims who are paying the larger price.
The issue of bullying hit home for the Morristown area in March, after the apparent suicide of While officials have not said whether they believe bullying was a contributing factor, statements by family members and others close to him . "What Lennon really wanted was to be loved, respected, and accepted by his peers," his family wrote in an obituary.
Gualtieri said that when the news about Baldwin broke out, the teachers prompted classroom discussions at Morris Catholic Junior School.
Bullying is both a local and national problem. Anderson mentioned a MTV/Associated Press survey released last September that found that 80 percent of teenagers said they have seen cruel and abusive behavior online. The survey also found that over half of students have experienced abuse through social and digital media.