“12 year-old girl hangs herself in Florida” January 10, 2018
It seems that we have been talking about cyber bullying since we invented the word “cyber” years ago. As with all new words, the definition tends to be a catchall for expressions that are too new to fully understand. Currently the accepted definition for Cyber is “Relating to or characteristic of the culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality.”
Because those dictionary people try to keep things objective in their descriptions, they did no use terms like “cowardly” “cruel” or “vicious” in the definition of “cyber” as that would show opinion and bias as they struggle to define the birth of a new word. It is curious that not too many people need a dictionary to understand the word “bully” as we all have our own experiences from school or even the work place that has solidified our clear description of that hideous behaviour.
One of the metaphors I often use in my teaching is the “Pilot checklist” as an example of what responsible people do in their pre planning before acting. Before a plane takes off to take you to your destination, the male or female in the front seat of that plane has gone through a very detailed check list on the big machines functions to ensure all is safe before the pilot hits the ignition to get airborne. The pilot does this because lives are at stake. I submit to you, with daily headlines of tragic teen consequences, that the same is true in today’s app addicted, text media world… Lives are at stake.
Because this is a such a new phenomena of communication, no checklist has been developed for our youth to consider before they hit the send button. This is nothing new. Rules often follow function after new inventions gain popularity. I am sure when the automobile first arrived, the drivers sped recklessly all over the place because it was so much fun to drive. Annoying politicians and safety minded people started saying things like “Stop Signs” “Speed Limits” and eventually “Seat Belts” to take away all the fun of this new inventions. When rules eventually become laws the debate begins.
It is this undefined new sense of responsibility that begins conversation.
When these stories appear, editorials and commentary point to the teachers and the parents as the neglectful contributors to the unsuspected tragic ends. Pointing fingers is easy to do, though it solves nothing. Let us start with the premise that we are all newly accountable to this cyber phenomena. Teachers can observe but parents must monitor.
My experience at school was so different than student’s experience today. It was very hard to be a bully a generation ago. That person needed to be strong, confident and have the ability to confront their victims face to face with their evil intent. Of course they talked behind the backs of their prey, however that was secondary to the primary act of public belittling and violence. Bullies a generation ago had a perverse sense of integrity as they had to bully their victims eye to eye and in the moment. Virtual reality had not been invented yet… Oh the good old days.
A recent experiment was done with young teenagers where options of discipline were offered to address behaviour. Option one: “No phone for a month, but you can go out and play.” Option two: “Grounded in your room for a week but still keep your phone.” The young teens chose option 2 almost 100% of the time. When virtual reality is more important than reality, “Houston, we have a problem.” Social media is a scary place to live.
Like other great art forms, Cyber bullying has subtlety and nuance. A young girl will post a picture of five of her friends. She will tag four of them, to share that one of them is not really a friend. Sesame Street taught young ones “One of these things doesn’t belong”, though I am sure this was not the intent of that little game. The untagged friend sits alone and the bullying begins.
Since the default response of all loving, protective parents will understandably be: “Not my son!” “Not my daughter!”, it is time examine evidence to prove the parent biased conclusion of your little darlings is accurate.
Duplicity in Personality seems to be an accepted approach among the teens today. This is not new. If I state the name Eddie Haskell, most people over 50, will understand the tradition of appearing one way to adults, and another way to their friends. For the young ones type “Leave it To Beaver” and you will get the gist of this antiquated reference.
Being “liked” is a motivation that has shaped our behavior and personalities since the beginning of time. New standards have forced people to let you know they like everything you do. This is an unsustainable standard, and I can promise you, you will not like what I am about to submit as a starting point to address our offspring’s unchecked behaviour.
I will start the list and encourage all to end their own list. It is easier to amend than create so please consider this the start of a list. Seven rules seems like a good beginning. What I would suggest is other parents add their own cautious warning signs in an effort to help with your own approach and understanding. I present this first draft, adding my own predicted challenges to the check list. I will start with only seven rules.
The Bully Checklist
Rule 1. No child has right for privacy with their phone, computer or any other communication device until the age of 16.
The Challenge: This will have freedom advocates up in arms about the invasion of personal privacy. I only suggest that you ask yourself how responsible were you when you were 12?
Rule 2. Parent must monitor all communications on a daily basis to ensure they are raising respectful, considerate, kind children.
The Challenge: This will be exhausting! The good news is this will confirm or deny your perception that it is not your child, who is the bully here.
Rule 3. Understand the influence of friends grows stronger every day as parents will always be the enemy. You are their teachers and models. You are not your children’s friends.
The Challenge: Your child might not “Like” this.
Rule 4. Have frequent conversations with your child about their day. Look for subtle signals that expose silence and pain in their words.
The Challenge: You will immediately be labeled as the worst parent on the block.
Rule 5. Children will be asked to think before they act. This life rule will serve them well in their future success.
The Challenge: When little fingers trigger large problems, this proper order of think before acting can be modelled by you and repeated daily.
Rule 6: Before hitting the send button I will always ask myself, is this message going to make me feel better, or will this message make the recipient feel better? Is their a “Bully” tone to your message and would you say this eye to eye with the other person?
The Challenge: I have written about his before, https://breakingwell.com/2016/06/23/umpathy/ Thinking of others first, is a behaviour you admire in many of your closest friends.
Rule 7: Talk to your children
The Challenge: You already know what the challenge is to this one. Talking ranks 5th in our youth’s favourite mode of communication.
That is the start. As this issue tip toes into a local epidemic, understand you are not alone. Many of your friends with young children are struggling with this cyber bullying on a daily basis. You are not alone. Counsellors, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other young parents are there to help you. You are not alone. Studies are being published every day to help us understand the depth and frequency of the issue. You are not alone.
When your child is attacked by faceless, soulless, irresponsible messages that they read through their tears, your young beautiful little one has never felt so alone.
The headline that started this blog had more devastating details. This bullied young twelve year old sent a desperate text to a “friend”, about the contemplation of ending her very young life. The male friend replied, “stop talking about it and just do it.”
Cue the Blong: Even adults need more than cyber conversations.
thank you for this challenging and well thought out checklist. I will share this with family and with colleagues at The Ontario College of Teachers.
Tom thanks for reading this and I welcome any insight your Teacher friends offer. They would have practical real life ideas to address this growing issue.
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