Technology Changes The Face of Bullying
For decades, bullying has been an issue for many school-aged children. The bullies hung out on the playground looking for a victim to leave the school. Once a victim was targeted, the bully and his minions would start off with verbal taunts that often escalated into a physical confrontation, all in front of the school’s student population. A victim was chosen for a variety of reasons, none of which really made sense. Not wearing the latest fashions or most expensive clothes made some the targets of bullies. Others were bullied because they had freckles, or wore glasses and/or braces. Yet others were bullied because they were seen as “teacher’s pet” or were honor students. Whatever “reason” there was for the bullying, the result was the same: the victim suffered from low self-esteem and lost out on having a happy childhood because they lived in fear. Today, technology has changed the face of bullying.
Where in the past, the bullies’ audience was limited to the students who happened to be in the area when the verbal taunting started or the first punch was thrown, today’s bullies now use social media to expand their audiences to the entire world. This is the age of the cyber-bully. Unflattering photos of the victim are posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram along with rude comments. Videos are uploaded to YouTube that show the victim playing, swimming or even just walking through the park as the cyber-bully makes nasty comments in the background, or adds sound effects. Most times, the victim doesn’t even know he or she is being photographed or videoed. Once the pictures and videos are posted, word spreads fast until there are hundreds of comments posted regarding the images, some from the other side of the world. “Hate Pages” are turning up on Facebook every day. Some are made by the bullies simply to have others know that the victim is to be hated and the reasoning behind it. Some bullies go so far as to make social media accounts in the victims’ names and post comments so it appears as if the victim is responsible for the posts.
Cyber-bullying is not something to be taken lightly. More and more stories are seen on television news or in newspapers about kids, some as young as 10 years old, committing suicide because they had been cyber-bullied. They feel that this is the only way out of a situation that seems to be never-ending. Also, the embarrassment of knowing that strangers are getting in on the bullying is too much to bear.
Now, more than ever, parents need to make sure the line of communication is open between them and their kids. Thinking that this could never happen in your family is a mistake; it can happen to any child at any age. Kids need to know not to give too much importance to what is said on-line. What matters is real life, not how many “Likes” your Facebook or Instagram photos get.
Children need to know that family and true friends are the ones who should really matter. The one thing that should be above all is that a child needs to know that if he or she is being bullied, it should not be kept secret from the parents. Parents and school administrators should be told immediately what is happening. Even if it doesn’t seem “that bad”, it needs to be stopped before it does get “that bad”. Sometimes, in the case of physical threats, the police may need to be called in. There have been way too many lives lost because of cyber-bullies. Having an open dialogue between kids, parents and the schools could help stop the spread of this hate.
The bullies of decades ago were cowards because they never acted alone; they always had their minions with them when they went after a victim. Today’s cyber-bullies are even more cowardly. In the past, a victim knew who their enemy was. Today, the enemy doesn’t show his or her face; the bully keeps hidden behind a computer keyboard. When talking with your kids, let them know that these cowards should not be given any power over their lives. The kids need to understand that cyber-bullying can be stopped, but it will take time. Tell your kids to hold their heads up high in public to show the bullies that what they have to say doesn’t matter. After a while, the bully will move on to someone else. When that person ignores the bullying, the bully will move on again. Eventually, the bully will see that his words have no effect and will stop. It will take time, but the time will be well-spent if it helps end a cyber-bully’s reign of terror.
Something that parents must stress to their kids is that nothing a cyber-bully says is worth taking your own life. It may seem unstoppable, but with time, things get better. Years ago, Dear Abby made a comment in her column that has stuck with me all this time: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” This is so true.
All parents need to monitor their children’s social media activities so they could stop cyber-bullying before it starts. Go on Facebook and search for your child’s name. If you see a page with your child’s name, yet you know your child didn’t make it, look at it to see if it’s a “Hate Page”. If it is, report it to Facebook and the school.
Cyber-bullying is an issue that could affect anyone at any time. Let’s work together to show the cowards they no longer will be in control.
By Alicia Szot