By Colleen Brady, Health Educator
It’s hard to turn on the television without hearing a report concerning another incident of Cyberbullying. Case in point: the story of Rutger’s freshman Tyler Clementi, who took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge on September 30 after his roommate and another student broadcast a very private moment virally over the Internet.
Bullying is not something new – but now it is taking different and more insidious forms. Cell phones and the Internet make it easier and more tempting than traditional face to face bullying. The potential audience is bigger and the impact far more devastating because something on the Internet is harder to erase than a mean comment left on the bathroom wall. Also, the fact that the tormentors can remain anonymous encourages them to write things they would never say if their target were standing in front of them.
Let’s look at something as seemingly innocent as YouTube. If you have kids, I encourage you to spend some time watching the videos they watch – and then scroll down to the comment section. Even the sweetest and most innocent videos can illicit very abusive comments. Try searching for the popular singer Justin Bieber on YouTube – then read the comments. Now chances are, Justin Bieber isn’t going to be reading the comments, but kids are. Or search for “cover music.” You’ll find regular people posting videos of themselves singing cover songs. Again, read the comments – but do it without kids looking over your shoulders, as the language is usually very graphic.
There are also videos of kids and adults simply sharing their thoughts and their lives with the viewing public. Such is the case with Jessi Slaughter, a now 11-year-old who shared a lot of her factual or made up exploits with the world. The comments she received were quite abusive – which led to a breakdown on Jessi’s part and an equally vicious video comeback to her critics.
Is YouTube to blame for these videos or sometimes abusive comments? Is the web cam or Internet to blame for the suicide of Tyler Clementi? The answer is no. The Internet sites and the cell phones are the new tools used by bullies to reach their intended targets. Clementi’s roommate Ravi wrote on Twitter that “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went to molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yah.” Twitter didn’t make Ravi write those words or send out that viral video. Ravi and his friend Molly will be held accountable for their actions, and they will have to live with the tragedy they caused for the rest of their lives.
Bullies are being held accountable for their actions as in the cases against the bullies of Megan Meier, Phoebe Prince, and now Tyler Clementi, to name a few. Lawmakers are trying to keep up with the new forms of bullying and technology when considering charges. Regardless of new laws being created, it’s up to us to teach kids that they are responsible for what they post. Kids need to understand that what they write and post is public and can be printed or forwarded at any time. If the world can see what our kids are doing online, then why aren’t we watching them as well?
Here are some pointers:
- Know what sites your kids visit and who their friends are on Facebook.
- Kids should have the highest privacy setting on social networking sites and never share personal information or passwords.
- Try Googling your child and see what happens.
- Let your kids know that they are never to use technology to attack, embarrass or humiliate another person. It’s just as important that we tell kids that it’s not okay to forward such attacks.
- Consequences for technology abuse should be spelled out and enforced.
The website www.wiredsafety.org suggests that if you’re the target of cyberbullying, you should stop, block and tell. In other words, don’t respond (but don’t delete the evidence!), block the sender, and tell a trusted adult.
Finally, we need to encourage one another to stand up and not be bystanders. Make sure your kids know that it’s never okay to pass along a negative post, picture or site. They also need to know that it’s okay to tell an adult. Saying nothing is saying something. If every person takes responsibility for his or her own actions online, maybe we can turn the tide against cyberbullying and prevent more emotional and psychological damage, and even loss of life, in the future.
By Colleen Brady, Health Educator, Prevention Education, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
Questions about parenting? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles, visit www.jcsbaltimore.org or call 410-466-9200. Jewish Community Services is an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.