Connecticut Among Leaders in Addressing Cyberbullying, Bullying Among Youth

Connecticut's anti-bullying laws and relatively low number of reported cyberbullying incidents have earned it a spot as one of the top three safest states from cyberbullying, according to a new national survey.   Nationwide at least 34 percent of kids have been cyberbullied, but the precise percentages vary from state to state. A new survey developed by Frontier Communications, marking Child Safety & Prevention Month, assesses the relative safety across the nation.  Based on an analysis of six weighted factors (including school sanctions for cyberbullying, existing state bullying laws, school discipline for off-campus behavior, and the percentage of students in grades 9–12 that have reported being cyberbullied), ten states are said to be addressing the issue head on: Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington, DC.

In contrast, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio provide the fewest legal protections against cyberbullying. For example, most of these states don’t have a specific state statute that allows schools to discipline students for off-campus behavior, according to the survey analysis.

The U.S. Department of Health (DOH) defines bullying as repeated “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school children that involves a real or perceived imbalance.” Bullying can involve making threats, spreading rumors, physically attacking someone, or purposely excluding someone from an activity.

Bullying and cyberbullying are major problems - over 3 million students are bullied every year, which contributes to over 160,000 days of absences by students from school, according to Derek Peterson, CEO of Digital Fly, a technology company based on Long Island.

“This is bad for the student, schools, communities, states and our nation,” he said, emphasizing that states have the ability to lead, create policies for reporting, tracking, educating, preventing and punishing those involved in bullying and cyber bullying.

Connecticut’s “An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws,” Senate Bill 1138 signed into law in 2011, defines "Cyberbullying" as any act of bullying through the use of the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, cellular mobile telephone or other mobile electronic devices or any electronic communications…” The law states that school policies must “include provisions addressing bullying outside of the school setting if such bullying (A) creates a hostile environment at school for the victim, (B) infringes on the rights of the victim at school, or (C) substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school…”

Testifying in support of the Connecticut legislation, state Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz said “we now know the long lasting and devastating effects that bullying behavior can have on victims, bystanders and even bullies.”  She cited a study by the Family and Work Institute that reported one-third of children are bullied at least once a month, while six out of ten teens witnessed bullying at least once a day.

Attorney General George Jepsen noted that “Students no longer have the refuge of home.  Technology makes students easily accessible through cell phones, social networking sites, and online gaming systems long after school closes.”  In advocating for the legislation, he said efforts must aim to prevent school from being a “hostile environment for the student” that “impacts their ability to learn and thrive.”  And, he added, those efforts must continue when the student leaves the school building.

The DOH defines cyberbullying as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets” and can include any number of activities:

  • Spreading rumors online or through texts
  • Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
  • Posting a mean or hurtful video or picture
  • Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and sharing them online
  • Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person

Recent statistics show that more than a third of children and teens have experienced cyberbullying, according to the Frontier analysis.  Data is available from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Cyberbullying Research Center.