Pulling the plug on cyber-bullying
Author: Richard Singleton

Don’t wait to act until you notice
that your child is acting strangely when the phone rings or the
computer dings.

Like our turbocharged, tricked-out phones, TVs, cars, and computers, bullying has made its way into the 21st century. We’ve long said goodbye to the snail’s pace of Mayberry with Barney trying to help Opie wrangle a nickel-stealing, black-eye-giving bully named Sheldon. The space age is here, aglow with the sparkling baubles of iPads, 4G, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. Tagging along for an epic ride, however, is a parasitic, age-old problem: hatefulness.

Increasingly, news media, social media, and anecdotal stories told through ketchup-stained faces in stolen moments between scarfing down takeout and stumbling to soccer practice have revealed that there’s an emerging crisis facing the most vulnerable among us – a cyber-bullying epidemic.

No longer is bratty Sheldon dishing out knuckle sandwiches. No longer is quixotic Barney peering from the bushes and reporting back to Ange, the southern Socrates. Rather it’s “pottEmth17” that’s “sexting” filthy pictures of his “girlfriend” to half the high school (and all the known world) or it’s
“thoughtle$$girl13” who’s saying positively horrid things about her “friend” who is trying to cope with the mountainous challenge of early adolescence.

A rash of national cyber-bullying atrocities this past year has alerted us to the intensely significant issue that we are facing. Our kids are brandishing phones that have the capacity for something as innocuous as a game of Bejeweled or something as toxic as shooting secret video of illicit sexual behavior and sharing it with the planet. It’s not child’s play, to be sure. Some have died; others bear the fresh wounds of electronic evisceration.

As with much of the cyber world, it’s hard to define the precise stats. The numbers of online and plugged-in kids are growing so fast that yesterday’s stats are like the LCD screen that Google displayed them on – dated and quickly becoming old news. In one survey, over half of kids said that they had been cyber-bullied. Strikingly, almost half of those admitted to not knowing the identity of the bully. The Sheldons of the cyber world hide, not behind the corner store, but behind the veil of fiber optic lines and wireless signals. Unlike the schoolyard fiends of yesteryear, these bullies of the bandwidth hallways have a bark that is often far worse than their bite.

With dangers too important to ignore, what’s a parent to do? Too much to innumerate here, I’m afraid, but I’ve dropped some crumbs on the trail that I’ve been exploring. Hopefully, you’ll join me on this journey and see if we can approach something like a path forward for our kids.

Educate yourself. Parents will undoubtedly always lag behind their kids in technological knowledge. Even so, wisdom belongs to those who’ve lived long enough to know that Justin Bieber is a kid and not a legend. With parent IQ fully engaged, go on a relentless search for information about cyber-bullying.

Wikipedia has a relatively robust menu over which to pore. Look into the laws, the news, the suggestions. See what parents, educators, authorities, and especially other kids are

Be proactive, not reactive. Kids thrive on positive parenting, but when backed into a corner by a reactive parenting style, the blinders go on, the wall goes up, and the conversation dims. Don’t wait until you notice that your child is acting strangely when the phone rings or the computer dings. Create a sense of openness and transparency that allows for a child to share anything and everything that a bully might conjure. Leave no conversation unspoken. Speak a little; listen a lot.

Don’t be duped. Kids are kids. Even if they’ve earned the right to tote a phone that would make James Bond jealous, it doesn’t mean that they have earned the right to have unchecked access to the world at their fingertips. Ensure that you have absolute access to your child’s phone and that his phone doesn’t have absolute access to areas you don’t approve. Don’t become the KGB of all things electronic in your home, but do make sure that no one is able to hurt your child behind the secret confines of a password or screen lock.

Be practical. Make sure that your child knows what to do if she is cyber-bullied. Kids should never erase the text, picture, post, tweet, etc. They should make you immediately aware of the issue. You should make other adults who are in authoritative positions aware of the bully behavior (e.g., the offending child’s parent(s), the principal of the school, perhaps in some cases the police). Children should never share personal information online. They should block anyone from their social networks who bully them. They should never accept “friend” requests from strangers. The list is long, but important.
Teach your child self-worth and respectfulness. Perhaps the best thing that you can do to guard your child against the dregs of the information age is to teach him that his worth doesn’t come from LOLs and OMGs. Teach him how special he is and how much you love him. Build a healthy self-understanding for him so that when vile attacks come, he will have the psychological health to fend off the shameful behavior of others. Also, teach him to respect others and to share his understanding of respect with his peers. Cyber-bullying is just the latest strain of a disease that came long before us. Help your kids to be an inoculating influence that helps build the health and vitality of others rather than to beat it down.

Our kids are far too precious to lose them to a world of hate hiding behind the glow of a screen. Do your homework to protect them against these not-uncommon dangers, and do what you can to protect others as well.

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