we interrupt this program…
The website modules can wait on this one. I’ve blogged about this before but I keep reading more and more news headlines about cyberbullying leading to bullycide and yes, being an educator of course I have a vested interest in this subject matter. But more importantly every incident of cyberbullying and bullying that I hear about, whether or not it ends in tragedy, simply tears a hole in my heart. Right about now my heart feels like swiss cheese.
You’ve heard about the Phoebe Prince case in South Hadley, Massachusetts by now I assume, (if not check out my blog I didn’t learn all I needed to know in Kindergarten – We didn’t have iPods and Facebook when I was 5), the little girl who emigrated from Ireland to MA where she attended SH High School. From the start of the year, this little girl became the target of severe cyberbullying and bullying, inititated by a female student who formed a posse of her friends to do likewise. After a particularly degrading incident, Phoebe Prince went home from school and hanged herself. All because of a little teenaged fun? Well to listen to teenagers nowadays, that’s their excuse.
“That’s what you do at school!” one teenaged girl protested on a document I recently watched as she giggled at the camera. She was referring to cyberbullying, not to bullycide, because this kid apparently hadn’t made the connection between the two. Her father was in the documentary watching what she had just written on Facebook or some such site. He looked somewhat concerned and somewhat drily amused.
“No I don’t approve of this. I didn’t know this was going on,” he mumbled to the camera, when clearly he wasn’t at all perplexed.
You are familiar with cyberbullying of course. No? Well then my friend, crawl out from beneath that cyber rock and allow me to enlighten you. Cyber means technology of course, and bullying meaning bullying (what else). Put them together and voila, a nasty, obscure new way of bullying people, under cover of a false identity so the bully can’t be traced very easily (although to quote our ever faithful Shakespeare, “the truth will out“). And the verbal abuse that is aimed at victims in high schools (and some elementary schools) is bad.
Consider this comment from a legal case in CanLii (Canadian Legal Information Institute) – online law cases regarding everything from human rights at people’s places of work to a high school expulsion case (R.T. v. Durham Catholic District School Board). The direct quote from the perpetrator, known only as V.K. because she was a minor at the time of the offence, was fired off through her facebook account to another high school student: YOU BETTER NOT MAKE ME MAD BECAUSE I’LL KILL U IN YOUR SLEEP OR AT SCHOOL ON MONDAY”. Nice. Hence the reason they call it cyberbullying.
VK’s mother had the nerve to appeal the expulsion since she wanted her daughter re-instated into the school the victim attended. She proposed ridiculous defences, claiming her daughter used Facebook as a “fantasy” and that she had no intention of harming the little girl in question. I wonder if the victim enjoyed VK’s fantasy. She insisted that her daughter didn’t fully comprehend what she was doing because she suffers from CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Difficulty). There is no connection whatsoever between CAPD and intellect. VK knew exactly what she was doing.
And that’s another scary issue here. When parents of bullies defend their children’s actions and argue strongly that their own kids are the victims, that’s where we discover the true origin of cyber bullying: parents who do not acknowledge their children’s guilt in tormenting other human beings, and who proceed to make their excuses. Wake up mom and dad. Yes your kid is a bully. Yours. The child you have been raising and supposedly teaching right from wrong.
Is it any wonder the kid ends up with a twisted sense of “fantasy” when mumsy and daddy defend their atrocities?
Cyber bullying and bullying is horribly traumatic, leading to teen suicides all over the North American contintent (more on that later), yet incredibly, here are the parents of these bullies saying “it’s not fair….my kid didn’t mean it.” Then your kid shouldn’t be doing it. I have questions for the inept father who muttered he didn’t know his daughter was into cyber bullying. Why didn’t you know that about your own child? Don’t you communicate with her anymore? Don’t you check up on her activities, offline and online? Yes, that is our job to check up on our kids. Kids are kids, and more importantly as long as our child is under our collective roof that means we are entirely responsible for chaperoning and correcting behaviour. No your daughter and/or son is not going to come to you and tell you that he/she thinks cyberbullying other people is hilarious and is the cool thing to do. Of course not. Would you approach your boss at work and tell him or her what you really think of them? Didn’t think so.
I’m not advising parents to snoop. I wouldn’t ever read my daughter’s diary (I believe she has one but I don’t ask her about it…..her own personal thoughts she keeps to herself are her business). But I ask who she is speaking to online. I read her Facebook messages with her beside me – both the ones she is sending and the ones she is receiving. I talk to her. A lot. We communicate about what email and facebook is and isn’t for. We talk about what cyber bullying does to people. She knows never to victimize anyone and likewise to come to me for help straightaway if anyone ever tries to turn the tables on her.
But she also knows that I am prepared to defend anyone she victimizes (I don’t believe she will, of course, she truly is a great kid), rather than her. Still she knows that if there are consequences to any inappropriate behaviour on her part, I will support them 100 %. Even if she is expelled. Even if her Ontario Student Record has a record of expulsion that will follow her throughout her high school and post secondary years. Fair is fair. Do unto others.
No one wants to watch their child fail and suffer. It hurts terribly and I would imagine that seeming like a traitor in your child’s eyes would leave a hole in your heart that might never heal, but we can’t defend or condone pathological behaviour in our children. That is a greater injustice by far to our kids than confusing them with our motives when they screw up.
Make no mistake bullying of any sort is pathological. It is sick. It is also opening the door to far worse crimes in the future. Many bullies eventually acquire criminal records. What begins as teenage bullying can grow into adult “bullying”, which is generally known as criminal, sociopathic behaviour. Abusive husbands, fathers and mothers, drug addicts, pimps, and all manner of criminals were kids once. And they were teenagers. And they were bullies. They bullied with their words and they bullied with their fists. No one responded to their bullying, or if anyone did it was outside the home. The parents of bullies defended them, or were apathetic to their children’s behaviour and didn’t “want to become involved”. And 5 to 10 years later these bullies became criminals and instead of expulsions on their student records, they were handed criminal records and time in jail or even prison. It’s an inevitable process.
In fact the students who bullied Phoebe Prince to death have been arrested and charged on both juvenile and adult charges for her suicide. I hope those students are found guilty. I hope those students do jail time. I hope that cell door stays closed behind them for a long time.
Not all bullies become “career”criminals (whatever that is) insofar as breaking the law goes. Sometimes teenage bullies grow up to be adult bullies in more covert ways: they become irrascible bosses, conniving co-workers, gossips, cheating spouses, difficult neighbours, and just overall jerks. They behave in a manner that is just shy of breaking the law, or heck, even breaks the law but not to the extreme lengths previously mentioned so they seldom pay the price for their actions. They stay bullies all their lives because no one taught them any differently and in their perspective, this is normal, acceptable behaviour.
There are other extraordinary consequences that result from bullying. Hershel Walker, a retired NFL player for the Dallas Cowboys, claims he developed Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) as a result of severe bullying during his childhood by classmates. That is a picture of bullying survivor Hershel on the left. I dare say those childhood bullies would think twice before taking him on again. Whether or not you believe in this particular disorder, there are likely many personality disorders that a victim can develop from bullying.
Do your child a favour. Teach thim or her right from wrong and whatever you do, don’t just talk the talk. Walk it. Be actively involved in your child’s life, from infancy right up through the teens. Consistently stay alert to your child’s choice of friends, moods, online and offline behaviour, and by all means support your child’s school when unacceptable behaviour is reported. Don’t get defensive on your child’s (or your own) behalf. Listen to the administrator. Speak to your child. Do your own investigating and know that there is no administrator or teacher on the planet who is out to get your child. Be skeptical when your child tells you (and they will) that your administrator has it all wrong and they are the victim.
Don’t tell yourself that once your child is 15 or 16, he or she is now an adult and can be trusted to make their own sensible decisions. That is patently ridiculous. Your child is an adult when s/he leaves your home for post secondary school, or for work, and is paying their own bills and living a life apart from you. Only then is your child’s behaviour out of your hands and no longer your responsibility. Hopefully you will have taught your children well and the future remains promisingly bright.
And if not, well, you were forewarned. So was your child. Not just through blogs, and articles, and headlines, but by your child’s school, community, the police, neighbours and anyone else who has been knocking on your door with legitimate concerns and complaints for 16 years.
Oh, and you’ve also been forewarned and informed by your child’s many victims over the years. Let’s not forget about them. Or Phoebe Prince.
Phoebe, we miss you.
March 26, 2011 - Posted by lml01 | Crime and Punishment, Education, Relationships, Technology | CanLii, Cyber-bullying, Durham Catholic District School Board, Facebook, iPod, South Hadley High School, South Hadley Massachusetts, Suicide of Phoebe Prince, Violence and Abuse, youth
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