Like too many people, I spent some time as a preteen and teen as a victim of bullying, so it’s a very emotional issue for me to write about and read about. As those of us who’ve faced it down know, those scars don’t fade easily.
But there’s two fundamental differences betwen then and now — one, school administrators seem to be taking bullying much more seriously than they did back then. Much less positively, though, kids are now taking advantage of the power of social media to go after their targets. And the relentlessness of that sort of bullying is leading kids to take their own lives rather than face the endless drumbeat of taunting.
Emily Bazelon over at Slate writes a detailed piece today as part of her Bull-E series using a 15-year-old girl named Phoebe Prince as an example. At the beginning of this school year, she’d come over from Ireland. After drawing the wrath of the mean girls for talking to their boyfriends, she was branded a slut and tormented endlessly, including on Facebook. Finally, in January, she hanged herself.
The school administration had held a workshop on bullying at the beginning of the school year. Attendance was low. A few months after Phoebe’s death, the district held another committee meeting addressing the issue. This one was packed. The district where Phoebe went to school actually took bullying seriously and was fairly savvy about cyber-bullying. Phoebe even recieved counseling at school. But in the end, none of it was enough.
The fact is, Bazelon points out, there are demonstrably successful ways schools can fight cyber-bullying. One ways is to create a culture where bullying, like smoking or drunk driving, is just not acceptable. Much of what was learned about the problem of regular old face-to face bullying and how to stop it translates into cyberworld as well. Part of the problem is how far districts can legally go to stop activities that take place off school grounds. Some courts have ruled that if even one student’s learning is disrupted, districts can enforce rules even off campus, while others hold that even bullying speech is preotected by the First Amendment.
Parents can help, too, by asking their children where they go and what they do online. Most parents I know with young kids on Facebook also insist that their children friend them, and some even insist on having their passwords, so they can monitor what goes on on their page.
What do you think — is there a way to stop cyber-bullying? Have you seen it with your kids, or their friends? Do you worry about your child being a bully as much as you do them being a victim?