By Connor Clark
Bath-DeWitt Connection Staff Reporter
DEWITT — As social media works to connect people and ideas, advanced technology finds itself in the hands of young adults, and issues of cyber-bullying and sexting have risen for the City of DeWitt and DeWitt Township.
Bruce Ferguson, police chief for the City of DeWitt, warns young adults to watch what they say and do online and on social media.
“Kids don’t realize that what they think is private, isn’t really private,” Ferguson said.
Although complete case numbers have not yet be compiled, according to Ferguson, the frequency of young adult cases on cyber-bullying and blackmailing have risen sharply in previous years. Some cases have involved threats of suicide.
During one case, a 12-year-old boy sent a photograph of himself with a gun to his head. In this photograph, he demanded to receive a naked picture from a girl or else he was going to commit suicide. When the girl received the picture, she alerted her parents, who then contacted the police. Fortunately, there were no deaths that arose from the situation, according to Ferguson.
Wayne State Psychology Professor Douglas Barnett studies the behavior of children and young adults. He believes that young adults in a stressful environment can build up so much stress that they do take their own lives in some cases.
“Families can add a lot of stress to a child,” Barnett said. “I think in cases where family issues are apparent, you could see things as devastating as youth suicide.”
Although young adults aren’t usually associated with the same amount of stress as someone older, Barnett believes young adults can be just as stressed as their parents.
“How do you tell a kid that nothing you do is secure … what you do can be seen by anyone,” Ferguson said.
DeWitt High School along with Herbison Woods provide students and parents resources on the dangers of cyber-bullying.
At DeWitt High School, they use a state program called the Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth, where students are surveyed anonymously about their health and lifestyle habits, according to DeWitt High School counselor Jay Miller.
Also, according to DeWitt High School Principle Jody McKean, health class covers issues of sexting and cyber-bullying; every freshman must take this class.
At Herbison Woods, the Michigan Cyber Safety Initiative holds an assembly for students to talk about their program, OK2SAY. A majority of students at the fifth- and sixth-grade level have a cell phone, according to building secretary Tracy Kleitch, putting them at an early risk of cyber-bullying. However, students are not allowed to use their phones during school.
According to the DeWitt Public School’s Code of Conduct, bullying and sexual harassment are a level three offense. There are four levels, four being the most severe; each level charts out the possible punishment along with the punishment for reoccurring offensives.
A bullying violation, which includes cyber-bullying, could result in a 10-day suspension for a student. If the offense is more severe, students could even face being expelled, according to McKean.
With the rise of cyber-bullying and sexting issues, McKean gives his reasoning on why this is becoming a growing problem.
“I don’t think students understand what they put out there is there forever,” McKean said. “I don’t think they understand until something happens.”
Students appear to be knowledgeable about the dangers of cyber-bullying.
“All the time we hear about cyber-bullying; we also had an assembly about it, too,” DeWitt High School student Will Nagel said.
With students being aware of the issues, why is there still a growing trend?
“Technology is all in our homes now,” Ferguson said. “People are able to put pin cameras in places like the women’s locker room … and a lot of it can end up online for everyone to see.”
According to Ferguson, police are able to work faster and smarter in order to process these crimes. He urges teenagers to understand the severity of the issue, because even 16 year olds can receive punishments just like an adult.
However, as technology gets more advanced and more young adults come in contact with this technology, the battle to stay ahead of cyber-bullying and sexting will become more difficult.
“Is it going to get better? Nope, I only see it getting worse,” Ferguson said.