A memo from the new Headmaster of my son’s school yesterday caught my eye and attention. He spoke of the “good and bad” of the internet, particularly as it related to children and borrowed a quote from columnist Michael Daly of the New York Daily News to emphasize his point:
There have always been cruel kids who like to pick on the vulnerable, but only recently have the tools of cyberspace given them such power. They can shame and humiliate on a scale as big as the Internet itself. Bullying has no bounds. Viciousness can go viral. And this power is made all the more dangerous by the emotional disconnect that accompanies disembodied communication. People say things in email they never would in person or on the telephone. Facebook and Twitter trumpet the trivial and make the momentous just part of the flow.
Cyberbullying and cyber-stalking have proven to be a dangerous side-effect of the proliferation of social media. Children and adults who have yet to develop sufficient character, respect and dignity to use the internet responsibly inhabit the darker corners and red light districts of the virtual city that we are collectively building online. If you have not yet heard the difference between the various terms used indiscriminately in the news an organization called “Stop Cyberbullying” provides a useful baseline for our consideration today:
“Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER called cyber-bullying.
Yesterdays bullies operated in broad daylight, in the playgrounds and the locker rooms of our schools. Today’s bullies, in an even greater display of cowardice, hide behind pseudonyms or the apparent distance afforded by the indirect nature of digital communications. It is a disgusting practice that has already resulted in victims committing suicide, widespread emotional trauma and many other ills.
What concerns me most is that cyberbullying is comparatively unpoliced. When it occurs out in the open, between children, teachers or caretakers can intervene more easily. When it occurs in email inboxes, text messages, blog posts and the like, the private nature of the threats are harder to get under control.
In an effort to stem the tide of cyberbullying in our school and community, our Headmaster has joined up with a program called “Talk About It,” a software program designed by students, teachers and administrators that has proven effective in reducing cyberbullying and violence against children in schools around the country. I’m interested to see how it works.
Bullies, as we know, are typically cowards who have adapted aggression as a means of dealing with their lack of self-worth. They push and shove physically or denigrate others with tongue and pen, rather than taking the steps necessary to reveal their inner greatness. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a wonderful piece of advice many years ago that I am happy to breathe new life into for you today. He said:
When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.
The internet, social media and all other forms of digital communications are a tremendous blessing when used properly. I trust that I am not positioning myself as a Luddite by my words today, rather, I seek to shed light on some of the darker alleyways in the virtual world that mirror in some ways and magnify in others the immature and stunted areas of human consciousness and function.
You can make a difference by supporting such organizations as Stop Cyberbullying and by taking care with your words in the days and weeks to come.
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Being on the receiving end of bullying many times in my life, it was often a confusing, disorienting painful world where one perhaps tastes the bitterness of injustice so acutely – especially as a child. I remember grappling with unreasonableness early on, and there is perhaps nothing more frustrating to a child than things not making sense.
But of course, if you mature somewhat successfully, you do see that the pain you feel is just an extension of the inner turmoil and anxiety of the bully themself, projected. All the world is a stage for them, and I remember in moments of greater lucidity how genuinely sorry I felt for them, as I could only empathize with just how much their own imbalance is affecting their daily lives, and their future from which those attitudes are going to take shape.
The human heart is kind and forgiving in nature, and if you are open, life will teach you to be genuinely humble and considerate, wishing no harm to no one, for there is no other way.
Thank you for your incredible writing, these points of departure.
I was struck by this quote from Michael Daly’s column, “the emotional disconnect that accompanies disembodied communication”.
We are going to breed a generation of cowards if we don’t take cyberbullying seriously. It is not a right of passage or something they’ll out grow. It has been shown time and again that children that abuse and are abused become the adults that do the same.
If a child bullies chances are one of their parents or role model has either participated in it, condoned it by silence or worse encouraged it.
I feel heart sick when I read that a person was so devastated by the meanness of an anonymous person or persons that the only way they could handle it was to take their own lives.
We must teach our children and remember ourselves if you can’t say it to someones face don’t write it. Communication should breed emotional connection, that’s where empathy, kindness and tolerance are born.
This is a subject we have to keep discussing. We can not let our next generations go quietly into the night. I do believe this is how atrocity starts; with a rumor, a falsehood or outright hate campaign.
We must look to ourselves, our schools and our government to end this. Kudos to the headmaster of your son’s school.
Ah, Emerson’s words are as true today as they were when he wrote them.
Bullying is a weak attempt to cover feelings of inferiority by attempting to intimidate and domineer others. Cyberbullying is just as destructive and tragic as bullying that may be done in the “schoolyard.”
Unfortunately, the internet has turned some of the benefits of anonymity into a virtual shield to cover nefarious intentions. I’m glad there are organizations seeking to assist with this growing problem; however, at the same time, it comes down to each and every one of us. Do we think about the ramifications of an email we may write…a blog post…a comment… review…or a tweet, etc.?
A little empathy and respect for ourselves and fellow human beings goes a long way in everything we do and teach our children to do!
I imagine it is hard for a child to have things said about them that they feel they can’t do anything about. Part of a parent’s duty is to help their child understand how these things work, and to help them have a sense of self that is strong enough to weather these types of difficulties. However, with the fact that things on the Internet stick around longer than a taunt on the playground, their potential for damage is higher, and we need to make it clear that cyberbullying will not be tolerated.
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The internet golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.
Thank you for featuring this on your blog. I encourage everyone to tweet and link this post today. Another website I frequent is the Cyberbullying Research Center. They are a great resource for the latest news headlines.