Tonight we attended a conference at Saint Rose in which a wonderful panel of experts commented on one of today’s children’s favorite new pastime, cyberbullying. No longer is it just the big boy on the playground who steals your lunch money or the stuck up little girl who calls you names on the bus. Now bullying has gone public. Taking it to new levels of hurt and humiliation, now bullies can post those hurtful comments online for all to see, add to, and comment on for as many days, months, or years as they please. According to i-SAFE Inc., 58% of students have had something mean or hurtful to them online.
For the original site of this chart and many more on cyberbullying, visit the Cyberbullying Research Center site.
So what’s causing kids to want to do this to each other? Is it the same old line mom always fed you, “He is just insecure so he has to take it out on someone else to make himself feel better.” Or is it simply just because these sites are available, so kids are going to make use of them? One thing is for sure, it’s happening, and not only are egos being hurt, but teens have actually killed themselves over online taunting.
Some believe that cyberbullying is a result of kids being less empathetic than they use to be, damn those video games! Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan conducted a study in which she measured empathy among college students. Konrath found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, especially within the past ten years. I just don’t see how this study could be accurate. First of all, it is “self-reported” empathy. For me, I feel like it would be very hard as a person to gage your own empathy. Someone might think they are empathetic because they buy nice things for their boyfriend or girlfriend, but when it comes to actual compassion, they are totally lacking. On the other hand, a person may think of themselves as not empathetic because they mock and tease their friends, but when it comes to a serious situation, they are always there for them. Not to mention the fact that they say the numbers are in decline, but they never say how much.
I don’t know whether college kids are more or less empathetic or not, but I don’t think that this is the cause of cyberbulling. Kids are kids. They make fun of each other. That is just the way it is. I believe that the reason bullying is increasing is merely due to the fact that now they have more ways to do it. It’s easy. Facebook and Twitter have given kids new mediums to bully and be bullied on. Lydia Kulbida, news anchor for WTEN and mother of two teenagers, lead the discussion tonight. According to Kulbida, these mediums provide tormentors with not only new mediums but permanent ones. I personally don’t think kids realize what they are doing when they post something hurtful about a classmate. They don’t realize that once it’s up there, it’s up there for good. Even if it can be deleted, it’s possible that thousands of people have already seen it and filed it away. Like a “virtual bathroom wall.”
But it’s not just crude ims or writing a mean comment on someone’s wall. Kids are now creating entire “fake facebooks” to hide their identity or steal yours. They can also create Facebook groups devoted to making fun of someone. At the forum, two students did a live demo showing just how bad things are. They said they had created a fake facebook for a not so attractive girl. Not only had people posted horrible things on her wall including, “Go kill yourself,” but they had also created a group calling her the biggest slut ever. I tried to find the group, but I couldn’t because up popped hundreds of groups titled “<Insert name here> is the biggest slut/bitch/whore ever.” I couldn’t believe it. Looking back at me were girls faces whose reputations are now completely ruined.
So what can we do about this? Sandra Morley, principal of Bethlehem Middle School, said that schools are doing all they can to combat this issue, and that anti-bullying is “embedded in the curriculum.”
However, according to Lt. Joeseph Donohue, a member of the State Police in the computer crime unit, this is not enough. “Once we get involved there is already a victim, that’s too late,” Donohue said, “It must start at home with the parents. Prevention! We must instill a sense of right and wrong right from the get-go.” James Preller, author of the book, Bystander, agreed with Donohue. “Schools are doing all the right things, but it’s not enough,” Preller stated, “Punishment may stop the behavior, but it doesn’t teach the correct behavior.”
One thing was evident at the forum tonight: the answer lies with parents and communication. Lt. Donohue described how he asked a class of 5th graders if they were on Facebook and every single one raised their hand. Later that night, he asked their parents if their child had a Facebook. They all said no. Not one parent knew their child was online. Donohue’s answer? Monitor your children’s online activity. If they have a Facebook, the parent must have their name and password. I agree with this. Kids are always going to find a way to get online, so parents must be honest and open with them. Remember that statistic from the beginning of this blog? 58% of students have had something mean or hurtful said to them online? Well, 58% of students did not tell their parents about it. Like Kulbida said, “Just like we can’t be embarrassed to have the sex talk with our kids, we can’t be embarrassed to have the online talk with them.” Facebook is not liable for the action of bullies, parents must be proactive.