U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said Saturday he will launch a public service video and use other educational methods to fight the dangers of cyberbullying after about 20 students advised him of how those dangers are increasing at their suburban high schools.
The students, all junior class presidents on Kirk's Student Leadership Advisory Board, talked with him about substance abuse, academic pressures, and other issues but voted overwhelmingly to have Kirk target cyberbullying on social media websites. The students said the controversial apps Yik Yak and Snap Chat are among those used during such cyber attacks.
"My colleagues, who are 50 plus, have no idea what Yik Yak or Snap Chat are, and we have to make them aware of their dangers," said Kirk, who is 54.
The meeting was held at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. The advisory board has been in place for about five years and the students said the trends are pointing toward a dangerous increase in cyberbullying, the Illinois Republican said.
Students said they knew students, or of students, who were bullied and it led to public ridicule, or worse, their suicides.
They shared a survey from the Illinois attorney general's office and iSafe.org that said 58 percent of kids in Illinois have been bullied online and 53 percent of kids in Illinois have been a bully online. The office defined bullying as "posting something mean or hurtful online," the survey said.
Kirk, who suffered an ischemic stroke in January 2012 and required two surgeries and intensive rehabilitation in order to return to the Senate, said he will fight for teens who are encountering cyberbullies.
Kirk, who still had some trembling in his right hand and leg, sat in a wheelchair as students talked and later stood with a cane as he posed for photos with them.
"It's important that people in high school talk to people in high school, and not some old guy in an office with no credibility with them," Kirk said. "That's why we're hoping to put post a video on YouTube and Comcast, where all the kids come together."
Besides creating the video, Kirk plans to issue a Top 10 list of the most dangerous apps that young people use during these cyberbullying attacks. Kirk and his aides could not provide an immediate release date for the video or the app list.
The students said that some of their schools now block their efforts to post on social media sites during school days, in an effort to stop instant posts to bully other students.
"I think they should make a dead zone at the schools, so you can't send messages during the day while you're at school," said Patrick Sachaj, a junior at Notre Dame College Prep.
Ryan Goldsher of Northbrook, a junior at Glenbrook West High School and president of Kirk's board, said students need to be on the front lines to help stop cyberbullying.