WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – What you say online can have real-world consequences, which many in Westchester have been reminded of following some recent incidents.
Cyberbullying has become a common word as more kids take to social media to vent their frustrations. However, a momentary rant can have serious ramifications.
After directing racially charged Tweets at Mount Vernon High School students Feb. 27, eight white Mahopac High School students were suspended from school and assigned to sensitivity training. The Mount Vernon boys basketball team had just defeated Mahopac in a close game.
Mahopac's basketball coach, Kevin Downes, an African-American, resigned shortly thereafter.
While both schools work together to address this situation, other Westchester schools have tried to get out in front of the problem. The Bedford Central and Katonah-Lewisboro school districts both hosted anti-bullying and Internet safety expert Josh Gunderson last week.
“It’s not limited to the school setting anymore and it’s permanent,” Gunderson said of bullying. “Once you hit that enter button on any piece of technology, it’s out there forever.”
Bullies want to humiliate their victim and bring as many people into it as possible and “embarrass the life out of them,” Gunderson said.
Signs that your child may be the victim of cyberbullying mimic those of traditional bullying. They may also include an uptick in secretive behavior, quickly shutting their laptop, or closing browsers when you walk in the room, or becoming visibly upset or defensive after receiving a text or message online.
Gunderson suggested parents do what his mom did, “try not to overreact. Take it in and then ask (your child) the important question, what would you like to do from here?”
Gunderson also suggested keeping a log of everything posted online in case you need to bring it to the attention of the child’s parent, or the school. In the case of the Mahopac and Mount Vernon students, the schools took it to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state Education Commission John King, and the state Division of Human Rights to determine if there were any violations of the law.
In another example of how your online footprint can come back to bite you, a Walter Panas High School student posted something on social media about building an incendiary device, according to Westchester County police.
The school was evacuated, but nothing was found in the student’s locker. However, he was arrested and charged with juvenile delinquency.