Social media contributes to bullying in Quincy schools

Apr. 3—QUINCY — A survey of Quincy Middle School and Quincy High School students indicates that most students believe they can get help from an adult if they think they are being bullied. Data from the 2023-24 school year to date indicates relatively few referrals to administrators for bullying cases. But Superintendent Nik Bergman said it's still a concern in Quincy schools, and that district officials need the help of parents to combat it.

"Is it a pervasive issue in the Quincy School District? I would say no," Bergman said. "But even a small percentage of bullying is an issue with us. I think bullying is an issue in every school district."

District officials conducted a survey of middle and high school students in October 2023, and of the 1,192 respondents, 58 said it was "extremely difficult" to get help from an adult at school in a case of bullying. Another 185 said it was "quite difficult" to get adult help.

The district participates in the statewide Healthy Youth survey, also administered last October and given to sixth- and eighth-graders, sophomores and seniors. Respondents are asked if they've experienced a bullying incident within the last 30 days; 27% of Quincy sixth-graders and 24% of eighth-graders answered yes. The state average was 33% for sixth grade and 28% for eighth graders.

At Quincy, 17% of sophomore respondents reported a bullying incident in the last 30 days, the same as the state average and 8% of Quincy seniors reported bullying, compared with 13% of statewide senior respondents.

For the year to date, 47 incidents of bullying have been referred to administrators district-wide,

said Quincy Innovation Academy Principal Colleen Frerks.

Bergman said the challenge with bullying at Quincy seems to be most acute in the middle school years. Social media seems to be a contributing factor.

"I would say one of the biggest things with middle school is our students having access to social media at a very young age when they're not socially or emotionally ready for it," Bergman said. "I would say the overwhelming majority of our bullying incidents start on social media. And it's generally outside of school hours, then it comes into schools."

Quincy students are not allowed to use their phones during class or when changing classes, Bergman said. Phone use is allowed during lunch.

Phones have changed the dynamics of bullying, Bergman said. Before phone use by children and teens was so widespread, the conflicts ended when school ended.

"It was an eight to three o'clock problem," Bergman said. "Pre-smartphone, the student could go home and get away from it. Now there is no escape from it for some of our students, or it happens outside of the schoolhouse walls."

Quincy has a policy to keep students away from each other when a bullying incident is reported.

"If we can do a restorative conference to bring them together and help repair relationships, we'll do that, too," Bergman said.

District policies allow students to be suspended.

"If there's a fight, we follow our policy procedure, and especially at (grades) 6-12, that does allow out-of-school suspension," Bergman said. "Depending on the situation, the severity of the bullying or the violence, we will long-term suspend."

Quincy students who record a fight, or who share videos of a fight, will face consequences just like students involved in the actual incident, Bergman said.

Frerks said violent incidents have decreased in Quincy compared to the 2022-23 school year.

Given the role played by phones and social media, Bergman said parents should be aware of the way children use their phones. Parents may want to delay giving phones to their children until they're a little older, Frerks said.

"I think a lot of parents, when I'm speaking with them, are really unaware of the types of activities their kids are doing on their phones, and the role of social media in that," Frerks said. "I've talked to parents that weren't aware of which social media apps their kids had on their phones. And parents are often really shocked when shown screenshots of what their child is saying to another child on social media."

Bergman said parents are still learning about social media, just like school officials.

"I'm a parent myself — I have a tween, two teens, and parenting in the age of social media is really challenging," Bergman said. "I have a lot of empathy for parents because I'm going through it too. It's a constant cat-and-mouse struggle."

The district has offered training to parents, and there are online resources for parents to help them regulate social media use.

Bergman said it's important for the district to use a consistent approach.

"You have to have a system-wide approach to this, with both the punitive and prevention side of it. And hopefully more prevention than punitive," Bergman said.

Cheryl Schweizer may be reached via email at