Questions about Cyberbullying
Is bullying worse today than it was when you were young? What about the impact of cyberbullying and cell phones?
No, bullying itself, the fundamental impulse, isn’t any worse today than it was when I was a kid forty years ago. The only difference is that the tools to achieve it are far more sophisticated and cut a wider, much deeper swath. For example, when I was a student, if someone wanted to spread a vicious rumor about somebody, they might write it on a piece of notebook paper and pass it around math class,where it would be read by the thirty students in that classroom and then discarded.
Today that same rumor could be tweeted, posted, SnapChatted, group-texted, or uploaded to YouTube where hundreds, even thousands of other students could add their own nasty comments. Technology is evolving so quickly, that in the time it’s taking you to read the answer to this question, there are probably half a dozen new ways a rumor could be spread digitally. Let’s also not forget the parents, who instead of stopping their children from perpetrating this cyber-cruelty, are surprisingly participating in it too, in an effort to vicariously recapture their own misguided youth . . . with deadly results.
Another challenge with digital bullying is the anonymity involved. Students can hide behind usernames and aliases with little, and often, no repercussions. Additionally, many schools feel their hands are tied on the cyberbullying issue because students are doing it from the privacy of their homes, and the question of jurisdiction comes into play. How can a school punish a student for an offense that wasn’t committed on school grounds?
What advice do you have for parents and schools to help curb cyberbullying?
I know this may sound harsh, but I don’t believe privacy should be a right if you’re a child. I believe it should be a privilege, and if you’re using it to abuse your classmates, it should be revoked until it is earned back, like any privilege. While I think it is important that parents respect their children’s privacy, there’s a big difference between respecting something within reasonable parameters, and honoring it to the exclusion of common sense. If you’re a parent, pay attention to what your kids are doing online, check their cookies every once in a while (list of recent search activity that scrolls down when you click the arrow in the search window), talk to them about their favorite Web sites and smart phone Apps, and ask questions.
I recommend monitoring Internet activity instead of blocking certain sites. Why? Kids are resourceful, especially teens. If they really want to access a Web site you don’t approve of, they’ll find a way. Better to let your children surf freely at home where you can see what they’re up to, rather than enforce blocks that tempt them to go behind your back and access the Internet where you have no control, like at a friend’s house or an Internet café. The key is to be vigilant, stay aware, and if you discover something upsetting, address it openly and honestly and don’t be shy about how you feel. I promise, your child will thank you for it when he/she becomes a parent. And if you’re the parent of the child who’s being bullied, the same applies. You have to pay attention, ask questions, monitor activity, and sometimes, if the signs are there (sadness, anger, depression, and dreading school) put aside your concerns about your child’s privacy and peek at his e-mails. Though it may feel uncomfortable at first, you could be saving your son or daughter’s life.
As far as what schools can do, some are taking bold steps in the right direction. Many are implementing clever, new policies that address cyberbullying from an unexpected angle. If the act of bullying was instigated,planned, or discussed on campus grounds,where it was perpetrated from doesn’t matter and the students responsible will be disciplined for the offence. I’m pleased to see administrators becoming more aggressive on this issue, and while there’s still a long way to go in terms of finding a balance between where the school’s disciplinary reach ends, and the parent’s should begin, at least the dialogue has finally been opened.
What advice do you have for teens struggling with cyberbullying?
If you’re the victim, don’t keep it all inside. Turn to an adult you trust—your parents, the parent of a friend, an older sister or brother, a teacher, counselor, or school administrator. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Also, don’t delete anything! Whether it’s a threatening Facebook posting, a nasty SnapChat stream, an inappropriate Instragram post, vicious YouTube upload, exclusionary group text, or any other form of digital abuse,save it onto your hard drive (if it’s on a tablet or smart phone, take a screen shot of whatever it is), then print it out, give it to your parents, and ask them to start an ongoing file. If anyone ever requires evidence of you’re being bullied, nothing speaks louder than documentation.
And above all, remember, you’re not alone. There are people who care about you. Seek their support. Let them be there for you. To those of you who have used the Internet to hurt a classmate, though you may have known what you were doing was wrong, I believe you convinced yourself it wasn’t any big deal, that you were just “joking around.” I also believe that most of you weren’t trying to be cruel on purpose and that in the excitement of feeling so included by your peers, you simply didn’t think about the effect your actions would have on the victim. But it’s NOT just joking around. You could be damaging that person for life. Next time, be the hero I know you can be, and refuse to participate. In fact, take it a step further and tell your friends you don’t want them going through with it either. Be a leader—you could end up saving someone’s life.
Excerpted from the new updated and expanded version of Please Stop Laughing at Me…