BRISTOL - Social media is crucial to teenagersâ€™ social lives these days, but it can also be â€śa cesspool of bad behavior,â€ť two high school seniors told the Board of Education.
Superintendent Susan Moreau said the student representatives to the board are encouraged to talk to their fellow students about some of the difficult topics they deal with and report to the board about them.
Olivia Rajotte, from Bristol Central High School, and Madison Fostervold, from Bristol Eastern High School, recently addressed the impact of cyberbullying through social media.
â€śSocial media apps allow people to be brave and careless behind a keyboard where there appears to be less accountability,â€ť Rajotte said. â€śIt also allows students to view the thread of a conversation, and add their own negativity into the conversation.â€ť
Students also have a tendency to exacerbate a negative situation by taking screen shots of a conversation and sharing them among their friends, she added.
â€śAt the beginning of the school year the administration details their expectations for student behavior during grade level assemblies. Students are warned about the dangers of using social media in a negative way, and the consequences for that behavior,â€ť she said.
BCHS Principal Pete Wininger gives students his cell phone number, she said, â€śso that any issues big or small can be reported to him to be taken care of anonymously.â€ť
â€śThe best way to prevent social media issues is to educate students on the right way to handle conflict between one another,â€ť she said. â€śAt Bristol Central we plan to have more questions involving social media included on our Safe School Climate surveys. This will facilitate an honest, anonymous way for students in danger to be heard.â€ť
â€śTechnology and the internet are studentsâ€™ primary methods of communication,â€ť said Fostervold, who presented a summary of a cyberbullying survey BEHS took last spring.
A total of 88 students replied to the survey, a mix of female and male, and upper and lower classmen. Almost half of them said they spend between two and eight hours on social media. When asked if they ever feel anxious or stressed from being on social media, 36 percent said no, but 55 percent said they do some of the time, she said.
Fostervold explained that a â€śFinstaâ€ť is a fake Instagram account, â€śwhere you can post whatever youâ€™re feeling without having to feel like youâ€™re being judged.â€ť Thirty eight percent of the respondents said they had one.
Half of respondents said their social media accounts were private, she said, while 17 percent said they were not, and the rest said some of their accounts were private.
Three quarters said they have never been bullied on social media, and only a quarter had said yes, Fostervold said. â€śI wonder if we had more students reply to the survey if this amount would have increased.â€ť
When it came to which social media site had the most bullying, 32 percent said Instagram, 26 percent said Twitter, and 22 percent said Facebook. â€śThey are all pretty equal but I believe this could change, with Facebook growing towards older generations and Instagram and Twitter geared toward younger people,â€ť she noted.
Sixty-five percent said they had not written anything negative toward anyone on social media. Of those that said they had, only one quarter had used their name directly. Sixty-nine percent said they had stood up to a bully on social media, three quarters said they had nothing to hide on social media from their parents, and one quarter admitted to posting inappropriate things online.
About half said they had engaged with strangers on social media, Fostervold said. â€śThat is kind of worrisome, but then again some people find the best of friends on social media, so thatâ€™s kind of cool to think about.â€ť
When asked who they would report it to if they saw someone post that they were about to harm themselves, respondents replied almost equally that they would call 911, parents, their school, and friends. However, Fostervold noted that 12 percent said they would not report it to anyone.
Sometimes you donâ€™t know if a threat is truthful or not, she said. â€śSome kids might not report it because they think theyâ€™re joking.â€ť
Only about five percent of respondents said they have a support person, such as a teacher, coach, or counselor. â€śThis is surprising because as a school you would think that students would be able to have someone in their community to talk to,â€ť she said.
â€śThese were really very interesting reports,â€ť said Karen Vibert, board chairwoman. â€śI can assure you that our administration will find this information very valuable and use it.â€ť
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.