Local schools teach proper use of Social Media to combat cyberbullying

COLUMBIA, Md - Millions of people use social media every day.  It's a time to catch up with friends to see what everyone else is doing.

Unfortunately, social media can also be used to hurt others.  Christine and David McComas know that all too well after their daughter 15-year-old Grace took her own life.

"Even though we supported her and made efforts to have her helped and public entities knew, we were not able to protect her and I think adults really don't get the new nature of cyberbullying. This is what we want to make clear," said Christine McComas, Grace's mother.

Administrators at Long Reach High School in Columbia in Howard County try to educate students on the dangers of cyberbullying.  November is Social Media Month. Educators offer positive feedback to teach students about the power of their words.

Several students say what happens online would not happen in person.

"When you are at home or on the internet you are invisible to other people.  No one can come in your home to tell you what you can or cannot say and with that people feel secure enough to share thoughts that may be inappropriate in certain settings over the internet that may hurt other people," said Shelby Fredrickson, Senior at Long Reach High School in Columbia.

"There is always going to be someone trying to harass someone else just because they get some pleasure, but to change that is so difficult with all that happens and so many people doing it that its such a broader subject than one situation," said Stevan Ditter, Senior at Long Reach High School.

"It's kind of a classmate or a peer pressure kind of thing because if you go and tell someone it's like you are weak or why was it that serious?  People don't know when something is serious or there is light teasing versus serious bullying where you need to go and report it," said Sade Ayinde, Senior at Long Reach High School.

According to http://www.bullyingstatistics.org suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24 and almost half of all suicide victims were bullied.

Chuck Buckler is a Bully Expert with the State Department of Education.  He offers this advice for parents.

"We need to get more involved in what it is our sons and daughters are looking at.  We need to find out what is it that they are communicating... What is it they are experiencing.  Be sure to talk to your child about that," said Chuck Buckler with the Maryland Department of Education.

Educators are trying to be proactive to cyber bullies.  They held a statewide Bully Prevention Conference at the University of Maryland College Park last month to educate teachers, students, parents and staff. 

The toughest part is getting victims to speak up when they are bullied and getting the bullies to respect themselves and others.

"They need to tell their parents.  This is happening.  They need to develop the skills its ok to turn the computer off and walk away.  It's okay to change your password, your screen name and there are things you can do to protect yourself from bullies.  Most important thing is if its happening don't keep it a secret. You should tell someone.  Tell an adult," said Buckler.

For the McComas Family, it's a lesson that came too late for their daughter.  It's a lesson they hope others can learn from to prevent this kind of pain and sorrow from happening to another family.

"Today bullying is different than it used to be with digital media being instant. Bullying is pervasive and invasive.  They don't go home at the end of the day.  They don't go home and find solace.  It follows them there," said Christine McComas.

The McComas family is committed to fighting against bullying.  They teamed up with First Lady of Maryland Katie O'Malley and Baltimore Ravens Running Back Ray Rice for Anti Bullying Rallies. 

The McComas Family also spearheaded "Kindness for Grace Day" in October.  They encouraged others to say something nice on social media about others.

"We miss her.  She was an extraordinary child and she lived a short life, but she lived a good life and I think she touched a lot of people," said Christine McComas.

The parents of Grace McComas say they plan to advocate for awareness on bullying and prevention.

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