A 13 year old girl who had sent a nude photo of herself to a boy she liked commits suicide after said photo was circulated in cyber space. A 17 year old girl commits suicide after receiving threats in her “My Space” account. An 18 year old college student jumps off the GW Bridge. A 16 year old high school student commits suicide after being cyber bullied even after she had transferred to another school. These are but a few recent examples of the devastating affect of cyber bullying on our kids.
Surveys conducted by the I-SAFE Foundation and the Cyber Bullying Research Center both report that approximately 50% of teens have been the victim of cyber bullying. Only a small percentage of them reported the bullying to a parent. The most common method for bullying was the cell phone, which was used in approximately 80% of the cases, but other favorite methods include texting, emails, identity theft, and creating false web pages, among others. Shocking? You bet!
Kids have always bullied other kids. Why? Because they can. To be sure, some bullies are being malicious or vindictive, but others do it because they’re bored or they think it is funny. They don’t always realize the consequences. Often, the victims have a low self-esteem to begin with. Consequently, even victims that don’t commit suicide may be scarred for life by the experience.
Anyone who is different in any way, short, fat, ugly, shy, by race, religion, sexual orientation or by any other countless ways can and will be victimized. In my school days it was simpler to deal with. There was no email, no texting, no facebook. Bullying was generally face-to-face. If one was being bullied, belittled or teased he was able to deal with his accuser directly (not unlike in a court of law, where the accused is entitled to confront his accuser). Bullies and their victims settled the matter man to man, as it were, either physically or by other direct means. But, it was all out in the open. In addition, often, teachers and school administrators interceded to resolve the matter before it went too far.
Now, bullies are able to hide in cyber space behind their emails, tweets and facebook account often with devastating results. It’s a lot easier to bully, belittle or tease someone when you don’t have to have the courage face them directly. Sometimes bullies remain anonymous. Also, they can disseminate their poison to an infinite audience.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
Cyber bullying is a pervasive problem among our youth. Every parent strives to keep their children safe and to provide them with a secure and nurturing environment. Most responsible parents do a good job in the physical sense, but many fail to realize the need to protect their children from cyber bullying.
So, what can parents do? (1) Convey unconditional support. Be a source of strength and maturity. Let your child know that you will always be there for him or her. Be aware of your childrens’ cyber activities. If necessary, limit or restrict them. (2) Tell school officials. (3) If you know the identity of the bully, contact the parents. They may not be aware of what’s happening, and, once informed, responsible parents will act to put an end to it. (4) Consider contacting the police. The bullying in question may very well be illegal.
These suggestions may seem overly obvious or simplistic, but, as stated above, part of the problem is that parents are not involved. They are not cognizant of their kids’ cyber activities, both bullies and victims.
Schools have a responsibility here too, although many of them do not acknowledge it. Their responsibilities are education and discipline. Even though the cyber bullying may have occurred outside the school physically, the bullies may be other students, and the school has an obligation to provide education and promulgate and enforce guidelines. As a preventative, they should make students cognizant of the devastating affects of cyber bullying, for example, as part of the curriculum in technology class and/or by promulgating a written policy. Moreover, when they have been notified of an instance, they should discipline the bully, particularly if the school’s equipment was used and/or the information was disseminated at school. Afterall, someone who bullies another student physically is suspended; why not a cyber bully?
Unfortunately, child cyber bullying has been in the news a lot lately. It is on the rise. Adults, including parents, school officials and law enforcement are playing catch-up. Hopefully, they will join forces to get the problem under control. After all, our children are our most precious asset.