Cyberbullies in Mamaroneck?

Conference Lends Advice on Latest Problem for Westchester Youth

by Joan R. Simon

(February 9, 2005) Cyberbullying appears to be the latest in an unending raft of problem assailing young people in Westchester. A county-sponsored conference on February 8 drew more than 500 people, including counselors from Mamaroneck’s high school and middle school, youth officers from the three local municipalities, and parents from R.A.D.A.R. (Responsible Action: Drug and Alcohol Resource). County Executive Andy Spano explained, “Technology is important to our lives. But increasingly, cell phones and the Internet are being used by some people to harass or tease others. In some instances, crimes are being committed.”

cyberbullies
Graphic & quiz courtesy of www.wiredsafety.org.

The Mamaroneck school district is among many in the county to experience this problem, which usually starts in late elementary school and continues through the high school. Hommocks guidance counselor Cal Chiang, who attended the conference with the three other middle school counselors, said, “Kids are just experimenting with this. They have no idea how open that whole system is.” He added, “We’ve had a few issues here where kids have been bullied. The police have been involved a couple of times. I think for the kids to know that we have public enforcement personnel being involved is important.”

“A Growing Problem”

Town of Mamaroneck Youth Officer Bob Reynolds described the incidents that have come to him as potential cases of “aggravated harassment.” “If the schools feel it goes over the line and it appears as though there could be some criminal intent, I get involved and contact the parents and talk with the child,” he added, describing the situation as “absolutely a growing problem.”

“Step one for this district is just starting to get the information out.,” said Nancy Winkelstein, the parent of a 4 th and 7 th grader who attended the conference. “If you ask around, it seems to be a concept that no one is aware of. It’s yet another thing like drugs and alcohol where you need to get the information out,” she stressed.

“Anyone Can Be a Bully in Cyberspace”

She added, “Even with regular bullying, it’s only been recently that people have become aware. But anyone can be a bully in cyberspace; everyone is powerful in cyberspace.”

One of the most dangerous aspects of cyberbullying is that it can be anonymous, she said. “You don’t have to look the victim in the eye.”

Mamaroneck High School’s social worker, Helene Fremder, said that when issues arise at MHS, “kids will talk to me or to one of the counselors.” She explained that the district is implementing programs to help students cope with the issue, such as Peer Leaders (who work with middle school students) and Caprice Advisers who work with 9 th graders. Cyberbullying is also part of the 6 th grade orientation.

Janet Buchbinder, a school board trustee and parent member of R.A.D.A.R., said the conference covered things that parents need to do, such as becoming technically savvy, knowing what’s out there and what’s available to students today. “If you don’t even know what they’re exposed to you can’t start a conversation,” she said. She cautioned that when parents hear about a bullying incident, they need to “stop, think, and take a breath before you react. Step back, don’t over-react.” On the other hand, she said, “Don’t just brush it off if your child comes to you with a problem they’re experiencing online. Work together to set up ground rules on appropriate behavior on line.”

“Netiquette”

Ms. Buchbinder stressed the need to teach kids proper “netiquette”, i.e., online etiquette. “It’s teaching kids not to say things that you wouldn’t say to their face. Don’t do anything on line that you wouldn’t do off line.”

“They are no longer safe anywhere,” she added, describing a computer program that can activate the webcam and sound when your computer is on. “The minute you turn your phone on, the minute you turn your computer on, you’re a target.”

Westchester County is talking about doing a countywide survey to determine the extent of cyberbullying. Ms. Buchbinder suggested doing a similar survey for the Larchmont-Mamaroneck community.

For further information on cyberbullying, go to: www.wiredsafety.org

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