I have always loved working in schools
In fact, when I was not managing public health research or programs, I was teaching in a classroom or writing curriculum for students. Before joining YTH in June, I was a high school Health Science teacher. I was fortunate enough to be at a school that encouraged me to turn my public health knowledge and skills into project-based courses for students. My students were learning basic concepts in epidemiology by completing a simulated outbreak investigation, sexual and reproductive health through 90s hip hop and R&B songs, and mental health through art installation projects. My dream classroom is a place where students would get to play and tinker during class, and then stay behind after the bell rang to continue open, honest conversations. And they did.
Students came to me and told me all about their lives outside of school. I spent my prep periods listening to them process a break-up, or a fight with a parent. I talked to them about how to navigate applying to colleges. We called clinics together for sexual and reproductive health appointments. More times than I had hoped, students came to me, saying they were being “put on blast online”; or in other words, cyberbullied. They showed me photos someone else had posted of them on Instagram, with a bombardment of harassing comments. I felt helpless, as did my students. While we had an extensive, triage-style support system at school, it was not clear how these situations could be handled in a way that the “victim” felt truly safe again.
Once I started at YTH and began investigating the state of cyberbullying among the young people we talked to across the United States, I had the same tight feeling in my chest when I would hear their stories. Our conversations really put faces to the issue. Sometimes the perpetrators would be people they knew, and sometimes it would be people they have never come in contact with. Some stories we heard resulted in suicide, leaving a community reeling to understand what happened, questioning how they could have done better, and hoping it would not happen again. The faces of the young people we met, and all the stories they told, reminded me of my students, and the harassment they felt. It always hurt. It always impacted their self-esteem, body image, confidence, and ability to trust.
Cyberbullying is a heavy and prevalent issue facing young people nationwide
According to our findings, 42% of young people have experience cyberbullying or digital harassment, and nearly 60% have witnessed it happening to someone else. What is even more heartbreaking to me is that even after blocking someone or telling someone to stop, 50% of young people were still cyberbullied. There is an urgent need for deeper understanding of why cyberbullying is happening, how it is impacting young people, and ways to effectively and efficiently stop it. But research around cyberbullying is only half of the answer. We have information, but now what? We have to turn that information and understanding into action.
Here at YTH, we are working with young people to identify solutions to cyberbullying for young people. We are harnessing the power of young people’s voices and experiences to inform solutions that I hope will work. That I hope will provide comfort and support to my students and the young people we met experiencing cyberbullying. That I hope will stop that bully from writing that comment. That I hope will save a life.
Do you or someone you know have an issue with cyberbullying? You can find resources to help here.