The Process and Experience of Cyber Bullying and Cyber Mobbing (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Quote on the Art of Writing (Retrieved from www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

Quote on the Art of Writing (Retrieved from http://www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

Whether it’s bullying or mobbing, in venues that are online, in-person, or behind one’s back, it always seems to start in the same or similar fashions.  A person is either perceived as somehow different from the mainstream, and/or introduces thoughts, ideas, or perspectives that are different from what may be generally accepted.  In some instances, bullying also occurs toward those whose ideas or perspectives are different from those which most people might blindly go along with; in effect, the person who thinks outside of the box is somehow viewed as wrong or bad.  I would estimate that, in at least 95% of instances that I have experienced throughout my life in which bullying or mobbing behavior was directed at me, those situations have proceeded in the same or similar manners, which I will describe further herein.

The first instance of direct bullying that I remember experiencing was when I was in kindergarten.  I was in the coat room taking care of my jacket and book bag.  Two girls, who also happened to be cousins, approached me in the coat room; they were also in my class.  I believe that both were jealous of me in some way, and attempted to degrade me for my characteristics of kindness and intelligence.  I remember being very surprised about their hurtful comments toward me, as I had never said or done anything to them.  It was a shock to be approached and mobbed by two of my female classmates, especially having been taught that girls are supposed to be cooperative and agreeable with each other.  That was an eye-opener to my sheltered existence.

Another instance of bullying, that actually turned into mobbing, occurred when I was in fourth grade.  It began with another girl as the target, and I stood up for her.  This girl was intellectually disabled, taking her core classes in what was called a resource room.  For her enrichment-type classes, such as physical education, art, and music, she joined the regular education classes.  I remember this poor girl being taunted unmercifully by several of the “popular” boys and girls in my class.  One of the boys who was the ring leader of the mobbing toward this girl was the youngest son of the school’s board of education president.  Another girl was the daughter of a teacher who taught at the school.

The mobbing of this girl became contagious, and before long, I recognized that I was participating in teasing and bullying this girl.  When I became aware of what I was doing, I was upset that I had been sucked into the actions of the popular kids – who were actually bullies; it felt very ugly, and I resolved to change my actions.  No teachers ever stood up for this girl when she experienced bullying and mobbing from our peers, and that was another issue that was extremely upsetting to me.

One day while my class was walking in the hall to P.E., several boys and girls began taunting and teasing this girl, calling her stupid and crazy.  She was silent, not responding at all, and taking all of the verbal abuse.  The more it continued, the more angry I got.  Then, I spoke up for the girl, directing my comments specifically at the kids who were bullying her, stating to them that they were the ones who were stupid, and that they should shut up.  The more they repeated their taunts to her, the more I told them to shut up.  At that point, I had taken action in standing up for someone who was vulnerable and unable to protect herself, and I became ostracized by the popular kids whom I had believed were my friends.  When they stopped being my friends, I realized that they had never been my friends at all.  I was happy and proud of myself for standing up for what was right.

Over the years, I have experienced many more instances of bullying, harassment, and mobbing.  Because I am very self-aware and confident in myself, I recognize how these issues begin, how they proceed, and the manner in which a need seems to exist in society for people to hen peck, gang up on, and destroy those who are somehow different, and therefore, who are perceived as bad, inferior, or weak.  I can resolve these issues for myself because I am a person who is a leader.  People who are confident in themselves can take a stand against others whose behavior or communications are wrong, immoral, inappropriate, unethical, or even criminal.  I recognize that it is those folks who really have the issue because they are unable to cope with what they don’t want to hear.

Throughout my life, it has been my experience that such folks may not only be bullies, but who have pathological issues or psychotic features.  These are often the folks who always have a need to be right, who can never consider another’s perspective, who can never compromise or admit they are wrong, who always have to “win” and can never admit “defeat,” and who are masters at convincing others that the targets of the bullying are those who have the problem.  Typically, these types of situations occur in the same ways, and often lead to the pathological bully blaming and punishing the target, including taking actions to intimate, harass, harm, destroy, and/or suggest or state that the target somehow is the one who has a mental deficiency or mental health issue.

In these situations, I have also observed that when a person is in a position of authority, and another individual challenges them to consider a different perspective, they take offense to it, seeing it as not only a threat to their bullyishpower, control, and authority, but also a threat to their identity.   They, then, lash out against the person with whom there is merely a disagreement or, to them, who has some appearance of threatening their cozy existence in which they are typically successful in exerting their bullyishpower, control, and authority over others.

A situation of cyber mobbing that I am currently experiencing is in the international, nonprofit writing organization in which I am a member, and which is male-dominated.  The situation began when another writer deleted a substantial amount of information that I had contributed to an article.  Even before contributing to this particular article, I reviewed its history, and noticed that this particular writer had often made deletes of other writer’s contributions during the past several years.  I actually expected that she would delete some or all of my material, and I was correct.

Quote about Quality of Writing (Retrieved from www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

Quote about Quality of Writing (Retrieved from http://www.WriteAtHome.com on June 26, 2014)

When I challenged this writer regarding what I perceived as an action that was excessive, unnecessary, inconsiderate, and one that did not follow established standards of procedure, she responded by degrading me and my work on the article.  The situation got ugly and deteriorated from there.  Also, having experienced such situations in the past with five male writers in the organization, I expected that she was male, but discovered otherwise, much to my surprise again.  This, then, began communications between us in which the other writer found and stated more and more reasons to discredit me and my work.

Never taking into consideration any of the perspectives and thoughts that I presented to this writer in regard to what she could have done to maintain my information, have formal discussion about it that was open to everyone, and/or make a compromise regarding my proposals to her of how the situation could have been improved or handled better, she continued communications with me by furthering her attempts at discrediting and discriminating against me by introducing her ideas that I did not know how to write (intellectual and professional bias), that I was a kid (age discrimination), and just generally doing her best to add other “issues” to the one that should have been the focus of resolution and compromise.  The writer’s conduct was also hostile and disrespectful toward me, including her use of words in all caps (which is generally regarded as yelling), as well as threatening to report me for simply following protocol by communicating, personally, with her.

Continually, I brought the writer back to the real issues at hand, including being blatantly honest about the lack in sourcing of the article, reflecting a low quality of it, even though it was rated as high in importance.  I had attempted to improve on all of that, although this writer’s deletion of nearly all of my material, as well as her regular deletes of other writers’ contributions, reflected to me her unnecessary and bullyish power, control, and exclusivity regarding the article.

Now, my experience in writing spans decades, and I have also established myself in having taught writing.  I have also had experience in researching, editing, and proofing, including in the professional writing arena.  This writer has many years of experience, is a senior writer, and has numerous outstanding contributions to her credit, though her pathological bullyish nature has caused her to believe she is always correct and never wrong, thus also causing her to be unable to consider any value in alternative perspectives such as mine.

The writer continued to harass, degrade, and discredit me, my writing, and my experience, even going so far as to suggest that I had some mental health issue.  To me, she is the person with the issue.  Even so, three other writers supported her point of view, also being unable to even consider an alternative viewpoint, thus causing a situation of cyber mobbing.  The writer’s threats and attempts at intimidation toward me caused me to report her to the mediation group of the organization due to her inappropriate and unacceptable conduct.

With regard to the mediation group, I also expect that there will not be one person who will side with me.  In fact, I expect that there will probably be another 10 or so people who will add their perspectives to this situation about how “wrong” and “bad” they believe I am.  In these types of experiences, that is what I have observed to typically occur.  People cannot cope with what they don’t want to hear, discredit and degrade the person who is the target of bullying and/or harassment, and support the person who is basically the victimizer.

Thus, the target’s bullying and harassing behavior contributes to harming the target’s reputation and credibility which also has a potential negative effect of also causing financial and economic instability in the life of the target.  This is because bullying and mobbing sometimes becomes so extreme that the target is forced to leave an organization for purposes of self-preservation; the experience of bullying and mobbing is one that can cause many health problems.  It is no wonder that people who actually are vulnerable and whose identity is so closely attached to what others think and/or say about them contemplate or commit suicide as a result of these types of situations.  When many people support the bully, and no one supports the target, things can get out-of-control and potentially harmful or lethal toward the target very quickly.

So, this current situation is one that has caused me to feel offended, misjudged, and victimized, however I am not a person who rates my worth according to the negative and harmful perspectives of others.  Even after having informed the bully of how she has made me feel, she has continued to blame me, be unable to consider any of my views, and suggest that I have a mental health deficiency.  Refusing to tolerate any further bullying, harassment, and intimidation by her, I felt empowered to report her conduct for mediation.

While I doubt that my perspectives will be supported or even that anything constructive might come from my report, I am pleased at having brought the issue of her inappropriate and offensive conduct toward me to an official body within the organization in which these issues are supposed to be handled.  What I expect is that there will be even more degradation, bullying, and mobbing behavior to be experienced within the mediation group.  I hope to be wrong about that, and will follow-up later regarding the outcome.

This has been the perfect experience for me to observe the process of how bullying and mobbing works, particularly in a large, online forum.  I am one who has always believed and worked toward being an individual who holds high standards, and who is of high moral and ethical conduct.  Therefore, I ceased my direct communications with the particular writer, and made a report about her conduct.  Also, I ceased making any attempted contributions or work to the article over which she appears to exclusively “manage.”  And, I won’t be making any contributions to it in the future.  My intentions of being a part of the organization are to contribute and make improvements; anything less than that detracts from what should be the goals of each member.

This experience is also not the first experience of bullying, mobbing, and/or harassment that I have had, nor will it be the last.  It is, however, I believe a reflection in society of the disease of so many people being unable to not only tolerate, but accept people who are different, or who have different perspectives, values, beliefs, and behaviors.  Just because a person’s words, thoughts, or actions are different, does not necessarily mean that the individual is somehow wrong, bad, or mentally ill.  People who are pathological bullies are masterful at causing others to believe all of that about their targets.  Sadly, many others in our society often appear to blindly go along with them rather than consider something different and/or with which they may simply disagree.  If more people agreed to disagree, as well as to make compromises, I think our world would be a better place.

*Author’s note: I have posted this article in four online forums, including WordPress; Twitter; LinkedIn; and CoPromote.

*Follow-up (July 2, 2014): Within the organization, I filed three reports regarding this situation; each one was closed without resolution being achieved.  The first report that I filed was not even read, but promptly closed.  So, I filed another, and was directed to file it in another forum within the organization.  Therefore, I filed my report in the other forum, and was informed that it was not the correct location (in fact, the first forum actually was the correct location).  So, I was given the run-around by everyone involved in the “mediation” process, which achieved nothing.

Finally, I decided to request a “cease and desist” from the writer with whom conflict erupted, and while she did mock me and identify our organization as a “three-ring circus,” for the most part, she has stopped her offensive and harassing communications.  As I expected, I did experience escalated cyber bullying in this situation, which transformed into escalated cyber mobbing.  In all, there were four writers who communicated only negative and harmful statements to me; three writers who shared a mixture of both positive and negative communications; and only two writers who were supportive in any respect.  In fact, I am surprised that there were any writers, at all, who were supportive.

To me, this is a reflection that this situation could have been entirely avoided and, at least, de-escalated, had there been understanding, flexibility, compromise, and a willingness to consider and apply a different point of view.  By the other writer refusing to do so, conflict not only erupted, but escalated.  I informed this writer that her derogatory statements to me were inconsiderate, offensive, and misjudging.  I also shared with other writers that this was the worst experience that I had, to date, in the organization.  In fact, this experience has been the worst instance of cyber bullying and cyber mobbing that I have ever experienced, in any organization.

This really goes to show that there is much to be learned in these types of situations by everyone involved, particularly the adequate and sensitive consideration of others’ concerns.  In too many organizations, courtesy and consideration get thrown to the wind while people steadfastly hold to their own rigid views, contributing not only to diminishing the people involved in the conflict, but also the organization as a whole.  I have lost respect for many of the folks who joined in the conflict, as well as for the organization, all of this having been completely avoidable and unnecessary had consideration and compromise been applied to the situation.

*Follow-up (July 7, 2014): I was actually wondering when the retaliation was going to start, and it began shortly after posting my previous follow-up information of July 2.  I recently wrote and submitted six articles to the organization.  Out of the blue, another writer has been stalking, bullying, harassing, and degrading me.  I believe that the writer is the same person with whom there was the initial conflict, but that the writer is simply using a different account and profile.  The pattern of behavior is the same.

It is so unfortunate that such ugliness exists.  There are always those people out there who believe that their thoughts and actions are self-righteous and brilliant, though they could not be more morally and intellectually incorrect.  It is these types of folks who create hostile and toxic environments, and typically, as with these two particular writers, they are in high positions of authority in the organization.  To me, it is a very bad reflection on the organization, and serves only to worsen such situations and further discourage those who genuinely and honestly desire to contribute.  It is difficult to maintain respect for, and participate in, an organization that allows such unacceptable conduct.

*Follow-up (July 12, 2014): My to my relief, this story has a happy ending, at least for the moment.  The person who was stalking and harassing me in this online forum has now received consequences for their actions.  The writer has been restricted from the organization for an uncertain period of time.  This was an online harassment and stalking experience like I’ve never experienced before; one experienced writer at the organization of many years stated that it was something of the magnitude that he has never observed before, either.  Sadly, the writer evidenced in their communications of not being remorseful, nor of realizing the wrong that was done.

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“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.