Cyberbullying: is it a problem among Northfield area students?

Justin Patchin at the Northfield Middle School Justin Patchin Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying
Justin Patchin spoke to students at the Northfield Middle School last Thursday about cyberbullying. Patchin is an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, and co-author of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying. Follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.

It makes sense to me for area schools to educate students about cyberbullying. It’s not clear if it’s currently a problem that has surfaced locally in a significant way, or if this is a primarily a preventive measure.


  1. Andy Alt said:

    Griff, I started thinking about this issue a few days ago but was putting off writing anything. I found your post earlier this evening and felt compelled to start pounding away at my keyboard. I hope you don’t mind if I post the link to what I wrote. ( If so, use your admin powers to delete it 🙂 )

    Tolerating or Accepting Bullying is an Anti-Education Agenda

    June 3, 2010
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Mike, for the corrected URL.

    Andy, I see you have similar letter in today’s Nfld News, too:

    Is bullying, cyber or otherwise, a significant problem with one or more of the area schools, as far as you’re concerned? If so, can you give us some details?

    And I see you’re suggesting legislative action. Is that because you’re not satisfied that local public schools (charter or district) aren’t doing enough?

    June 5, 2010
  3. Andy Alt said:

    Thank you, Mike.

    Griff, yes, I sent it to the ‘News after I posted it on the Mental Health site.

    Is bullying, cyber or otherwise, a significant problem with one or more of the area schools, as far as you’re concerned? If so, can you give us some details?

    I keep seeing the issue come up, reading TIME, reading your post, last year saw the post on Senator Dahle’s site, and know from personal experience it happens. Is it a problem in area schools? Drug use was a problem before it was known to be a problem. I think there should be an assumption made that bullying is a problem for some kids; man doesn’t live on assumptions alone, however, and steps should be taken to find out to what extent.

    My girlfriend is an elementary school teacher. We moved out of Northfield into the metro area last year. She worked as a substitute last year, occasionally for the Northfield school district. She’s never told me that she witnessed it as being a problem, but her and I are in agreement that it shouldn’t be tolerated and that it shouldn’t be downplayed.

    My first-hand experience with kids is that of being an Uncle, and a babysitter to my nieces and nephews, none of whom live in Northfield, nor attend Northfield schools.

    But to further answer your question, I don’t know how the local public schools deal with it and couldn’t say if they’re doing enough.

    The challenge to finding out how much of a problem bullying is, is getting kids to report it, right? If a child is worried about retaliation, they keep to themselves.

    Legislation doesn’t necessarily have to be the answer. Members of the Northfield community do a good job at forming community initiatives and opening discussions.

    An anonymous survey comes to mind, that might be a good start to getting at least a ballpark idea of how many children are affected.

    Another idea is to not waiting for children to speak up, but instead initiating the conversation and asking questions.

    Pick a couple of days during the school year to have a one-hour class to educate kids on what they should do if they feel that bullying is causing a problem for them, or what to do if they witness it. How to report it, etc.

    I’ve read a few things in TIME about programs teaching empathy, another program called “Expect Respect.” (I won’t elaborate here on things like that, I think Googling the information should be sufficient.)

    Legislation could mandate these items, but obviously everything I mentioned can be done voluntarily, and with very little $ or time.

    If people want kids to learn how to fight back, either verbally or physically, I think that can be accomplished at a location other than the school. Poor grades, truancy, drug use, dropping out are heavy issues that affect a large percentage of kids, so school-time should be used for book smarts, not street smarts. Time other than during the school day can be used for that.

    I prefer not to write of my personal experiences, but I do if it helps make a point or can give insight that might prove helpful.

    I was bullied more at home than at school. At the time, people blew it off as sibling rivalry, and told me my brother and I would one day get along and be friends. Well, he’s been in and out of jail or prison for the last two decades.

    He was always 3 1/2 years older than me, I felt quite defenseless. He sometimes had a couple of friends around when he… did things to me.

    I remember the first time I “dealt with it.” I was 17, so finally about the same size as him. I was arguing with him about some small thing, and he started threatening me. I went into a fighting posture and said, “Let’s go.” He backed down. So twice more that happened, the last was about 7 years ago.

    With regard to bullying at school: my dad died when I was eight. I finished third grade, and we moved to a different city, where I started 4th grade. I’d have trouble counting how many schools I’ve gone to; more than 10 I’ll say.

    I’ve always been an oddball, even before my father died. And now at all these schools I went to as we moved over the years, I was always the new kid. We didn’t have much money either. Essentially, I was teased for the way I dressed, and for the acted. In my case, there was much less physical abuse and intimidation from kids at school, more verbal attacks.

    It’s important not to downplay the effects that verbal abuse can have at school. It’s not conducive to getting a child educated. It’s harder to concentrate, harder to care, harder to think positive, harder to learn.

    I was truant 72 days my freshman year at high school. I don’t know how many days I was truant when I was a sophomore, but on my sixteen birthday when I was a sophomore, I received papers in the mail that the school was filing truancy. (Speaking of laws, I wonder why truancy wasn’t filed during my freshman year, when I had skipped out 72 days.)

    I’m 37 now, by the way.

    Some research suggest that children who are bullied sometimes become bullies themselves. And eventually, as research suggests, I became a bully. Though not to the same extent as to what I had received over the years. So I “dealt with it.” One time, I provoked two kids to fight during lunch hour. Another time, I was with some friends, and I flicked ashes on a kid’s head.

    Peer pressure and bullying sometimes accompany each other, by the way, in case that wasn’t already known.

    And I would caution people not to make the assumption that bullying or verbal abuse only happens at public schools. I went to three different private, Catholic schools from 4th to 3/4 of 8th grade. It was just as bad there, if not worse, as at public schools. The difference was at public schools verbal attacks happened a lot inside the classroom, while at the Catholic schools, it took place more outside the classroom (i.e. lunchtime, recess).

    (All these schools, by the way, were in Wisconsin and Minnesota.)

    Some might say I’m feeling sorry for myself and bitter. They’re right. 🙂 So let’s go back to talking about the present. Kids will tease and bully other kids. It’s a fact of life. Some of it that goes on in school can be prevented and some of it can’t. How much should be accepted or tolerated, and how much shouldn’t?

    I don’t claim to have all the answers, and as I’ve indicated, I can’t speak as a parent. I’m sure there are many people with good ideas on how to approach and discuss the issue. The subject kept popping up, and I felt compelled to write something about. I’m sorry that my original document was incomplete and I didn’t put much time or thought into it. But I hope this is a discussion that will continue with everyone involved, especially the children.

    June 5, 2010
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s NY Times: Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray

    Often, school district discipline codes say little about educators’ authority over student cellphones, home computers and off-campus speech. Reluctant to assert an authority they are not sure they have, educators can appear indifferent to parents frantic with worry, alarmed by recent adolescent suicides linked to bullying.

    Whether resolving such conflicts should be the responsibility of the family, the police or the schools remains an open question, evolving along with definitions of cyberbullying itself.

    Nonetheless, administrators who decide they should help their cornered students often face daunting pragmatic and legal constraints.

    June 27, 2010
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: District gets specific with anti-bullying policy

    At its meeting on Monday night, the Northfield Public Schools Board of Education received a revised bullying prohibition policy, with increased focus on misuse of new technologies. Superintendent Chris Richardson said the changes came at the suggestion of the Minnesota School Boards Association, and seeks to “call out” cyberbullying in stronger language.

    …Suggested changes include direct references to text, e-mail and instant messages, website posting, shared digital images and blogs. The changes also point out that bullying won’t be tolerated no matter who it’s aimed at (teachers and staff as well as peer-students) or no matter where or when it happens.

    November 13, 2010
  6. Kathie Galotti said:

    I saw the story in the news, and I’m vaguely uneasy about it. To explain, let me begin by quoting the beginning of the story:

    “A high school student hates her American Literature teacher, so she posts her frustration on Facebook. A couple friends join in. They decide to create a fan page about it. Other students see it and they join in.

    Is it 21st century venting of teen age angst?

    No, according to school district policy, it’s bullying.”

    So what’s bothering me it this example seems like the student will be punished for criticizing a teacher. Or saying she hates her teacher. Or the class.

    That’s not BULLYING in my book–it’s CRITICIZING. And I think to punish students for criticizing is a huge infringement on their free speech rights.

    Now, of course, if the students are threatening the teacher, that could be, and probably is bullying. But just posting a negative comment isn’t.

    Then the question becomes, can students post negative comments about other students? And I’m afraid I would have to come down on the side of “yes”, if they aren’t threatening and they aren”t inciting others to threaten the student.

    I think we can go too far with “bullying” rules. I admit there’s some gray area here, but I think we have to allow for that.

    November 14, 2010
  7. kiffi summa said:

    Ms. Galotti’s comment is a good example of the need to be able to parse out the centrality of an issue without just labeling.
    Unfortunately , in many situations, no one is willing to take the time to dissect the issue through a complicated discussion… can’t have the meeting be longer than an hour and a half you know!

    O.K., that was cynical, but I have heard entirely too many comments about meeting efficiency which then, in practice, result in meeting emptiness.

    Our lives will only get more complicated, not less, and sometimes a log, thorough discussion is called for… even if it occasions an added , special meeting.

    November 15, 2010
  8. kiffi summa said:

    As Exodus international and Focus on Family struggle with who will present what kind of “Day of Truth/Day of Dialogue” event , it would be wise for the churches in Northfield to have some public dialogue which relates to the issue of GLBT youth, and the treatment of them in both school and social settings.

    I think the School District must go farther down the public process road with regard to this sensitive subject. I am very glad they have made a policy statement, but that’s not enough.

    As I have said before, Churches have every right to teach what they believe; but Churches who teach their children that homosexuality is a sin which renders the “sinner” unloved by God are causing a moral conflict too difficult for a teenager, or younger child, to resolve.

    November 29, 2010

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