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Taking a Stand: Uniting Against Cyberbullying for a Safer Digital Future

By Sonal Lakhani, Governor's STEM Scholar

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, my friends and I, seeking connection in the virtual world, unexpectedly faced cyberbullying – turning what should have been an online refuge into a space tainted with hurtful comments and harassment. This, coupled with the alarming statistic that 59 percent of U.S. teens have encountered abusive behaviors online, propelled me to address this pervasive issue.

The problem is clear: cyberbullying is not merely a virtual nuisance; it has real-world consequences. The implications extend beyond emotional distress, as evidenced by tragic outcomes such as suicides linked to relentless online harassment. According to the National Institutes of Health, young adults who have experienced cyberbullying are 2.5 times as likely to have suicidal thoughts than their non-bullied counterparts. Cyberbullying is not just a teenage problem; it's a societal concern that has ripple effects across all age groups and demands a comprehensive and immediate response.

Since being cyberbullied myself, I have delved into research and attended seminars, deepening my commitment to stopping hurtful online commentary. Yet, it's not just about studying the issue; it's about leveraging that understanding to create meaningful change. It’s why, along with my friends, we are working to launch a Cyberbullying Prevention Chapter at John P. Stevens High School in Edison. This organization will not merely be a reaction to personal adversity; but a proactive response aimed at preventing the devastating consequences associated with cyberbullying in our school.

The consequences of cyberbullying are severe, and the statistics are sobering. Victims may endure psychological trauma, depression, and anxiety, with some tragically resorting to self-harm or suicide. The ripple effects extend to families, schools, and communities, creating a pressing societal concern that demands collective action.

It's not merely about reacting to cyberbullying incidents as they occur; it's about equipping individuals with the tools to navigate digital challenges effectively over time. And while New Jersey does have an Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights to protect students from actions like cyberbullying, it is implemented in a top-down approach with administrators and teachers tasked with ensuring the safety of students. With student-led groups, such as the Cyberbullying Prevention Chapter, we are able to support each other as we navigate bullying incidents online. 

Our goal with the Cyberbullying Prevention Chapter is to stop cyberbullying before it starts, and to teach fellow students how to effectively handle cyberbullying incidents. Our hope is that other schools will adopt a similar approach, becoming partners in this effort, and instilling digital resilience and empathy in the next generation. 

The significance of the Cyberbullying Prevention Chapter extends beyond school walls. It is a community-driven effort to create safer online spaces, protecting vulnerable individuals and preventing the tragic outcomes associated with cyberbullying. By fostering a culture of digital responsibility, we equip young people with the tools they need to navigate the online world safely.

By utilizing technology and data analysis, we can develop smarter strategies for identifying and addressing instances of cyberbullying in real-time. Moreover, promoting STEM education encourages critical thinking skills essential for navigating the complexities of the online world. It empowers individuals to become proactive in creating a safer digital environment by understanding how technology works and how it can be used positively. Through initiatives like our Cyberbullying Prevention Chapter, we not only promote STEM principles but also demonstrate their practical application in tackling pressing social challenges. The battle against cyberbullying is not just a challenge; it is a call to action for society as a whole. 

Our Cyberbullying Prevention Chapter represents a tangible solution that addresses the root of the problem, preventing the devastating consequences that can arise from unchecked online harassment. It is a plea for New Jersey STEM Month and it goes to parents, educators, policymakers, and communities to recognize the gravity of the issue and work collectively to build digital resilience. Together, we can create a safer, more compassionate online world for everyone.

Sonal Lakhani is a senior at John P. Stevens High School with a profound passion for medicine and technology. With aspirations of becoming a cardiologist, she aims to delve into the intersection of healthcare and innovation. Sonal is a 2024 Governor’s STEM Scholar, a program of the Research & Development Council of New Jersey. 


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