40 years of faulty wiring

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.

Watch Saddest Thing: 15-year-old Girl Committed Suicide Because of Getting Bullied

March 26, 2011 Posted by | Crime and Punishment, Education, Relationships, Technology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Didn’t Learn All I Need to Know in Kindergarten – We Didn’t Have iPods and Facebook When I was 5

It’s a nice thought though isn’t it? Robert Fulghum wrote that cool little book All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, some twenty-three years ago (has it really been that long?). It is a collection of 50 short essays by Fulghum about his philosophies on all manner of topics. It’s a unique idea. I haven’t actually read the book although I have read the 16 Kindergarten lessons he espouses that follow us throughout life from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Of course it is a simplistic, childlike view of the world. In fact, I have to take issue with Fulghum’s list for a number of reasons.

For instance how do you survive a terrible heartache and go about your business as if everything is alright when it isn’t and might never be again?
How do you accept the unfairness of death?
Why is adulthood nowhere near as free as you thought it would be when we discovered you still have to follow someone else’s rules?
Why does everything free always come with a price?
How do you fight prejudice in our community even as you fight it in your own heart?

But before I beat up too much on Fulghum’s essay I have to say that there are a lot of truths to it.  Sharing, flushing the toilet, playing nicely, washing your hands, not hitting people, being full of wonder, knowing that everything dies, saying you’re sorry when you hurt somebody and on and on; these things are and will always be true.

Having been a kindergarten teacher for 3 years I can attest to the fact that many, if not all of Fulghum’s lessons are indeed taught to our 4 and 5-year-olds during their initial year at school. Let me repeat that. They are taught but they are not learned. We repeat the same life lessons over and over to children throughout all of elementary school, middle school and secondary school until most kids get it right. Even then, a lot of students just never quite get it. If Fulghum managed to learn and retain all of these lessons in Kindergarten then he must have been an astute student, indeed. Especially for a 5-year-old.

We know that a lot of students never really learn this stuff and that begs the question of whether Fulghum’s list is relevant anymore in the 21st century. Consider the explosion of bullying in elementary and secondary schools across North America. It is likely you have read or heard about the cyberbullying epidemic and perhaps you are even aware of the term bullycide;  a term that describes driving a student to commit suicide through sheer cruelty, be it physical, verbal, or written. Surely you have heard of the Phoebe Prince bullycide. After being bullied for several weeks at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts the child hung herself. There were no anti-bullying campaigns in place at her school to help prevent her attacks. There was no response from educators when Phoebe’s mother reported the abuse. No one cared. How proud South Hadley High School must be.

However the Phoebe Prince case is unprecedented: it resulted in criminal charges being brought against the 7 or so people involved in her bullying. Adult charges have been brought against those  students who are 17 and older (the age of adulthood in Massachusetts) and juvenile charges for those 16 and under. This is the first known case of bullying and cyberbullying that has resulted in criminal charges. Hopefully this will become a regular, national response to bullying, whether or not bullying results in bullycide.

Click this link for a Larry King Live Interview with a bullying expert (sad that we even need one isn’t it?) brought to you by Xtranormal Movies and Yours Truly : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_6khkEOhMU 

The scary thing about cyberbullying is that the perpetrator is able to hide online behind a false identity in order to torment her/his victim. Facebook has even closed down people’s accounts who have used their site to bully and threaten people, but students (and adults) get around this nuisance by opening another account under another name. Wonderful. Facebook in fact has come under attack by a lot of users and computer professionals alike, and not just for bullying reasons. Click here for link “Five Reasons Why I Hate Facebook (With a Passion)” On the other hand there is a lot of good about Facebook so I cannot entirely agree with the author (Fulghum knows a thing or two about that).

Ah, heck.  Click this link for another negative take on Facebook from Xtranormal movies (not by me) So You Want to Close Your Facebook Account.

Indeed the Phoebe Prince case serves to support Fulghum’s message “don’t hit people” and “say you’re sorry when you hurt someone“. Yet if only it were that simple. What do we do with the kids who don’t learn these lessons and don’t care when they bully a person into  suicide? Should we add “don’t make people kill themselves” to Fulghum’s list? What about children who take a sadistic delight in harming others? New item for the list: “don’t turn into a sadist”. Whose fault is all the bullying, harrassment and hatred our kids are expressing today? Ours? The families? The students? The media?

I want answers somewhere in Fulghum’s wishful list and I am not going to get them. At least none that will satisfy me since long after I graduated from Kindergarten.

Why I’m Starting to Hate Facebook
3 Good Things About Facebook
Facebook Hits 350 Million Users, Closes 3,500 Accounts

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Education, Human psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments