It used to be, even when I was a kid, that even if you got bullied at school, you could go home and get away from them if you didn’t live near them. There was a certain safety in “home;” it could be largely free of such pointless drama. But no longer can you leave “school drama” at school, if you’re a student.
These days, bullying, petty squabbles, and other distasteful hallmarks of student life follow you home via the Internet. Kids at school can find you online, especially if you have social media accounts, and their torment online is recorded for posterity unless you delete it all. And even then, the remarks they make have likely been seen by others, and have possibly been shared.
I am SO glad I did not grow up in this era of being digitally inter-tangled with the rest of the kids I went to school with. I was bullied enough during the school day itself–I can’t imagine what it would have been like to come home from school, knowing that nasty written comments were likely waiting for me as soon as I got onto Internet at home.
Bullying is Deadlier than Ever
I am not the first to write about these kinds of incidents, most certainly, but the issue of bullying or harassing others on the Internet needs constant attention, so that future generations know about it, and know that it is a cruel, cowardly, and mean-spirited act. Just as verbal bullying has finally gotten worldwide attention, so must the digital form of bullying.
The much-publicized suicide death of Megan Meier in 2005 after being harassed on Myspace (more information via Wikipedia), as well as other deaths because of online bullying, are warning signals for us, as parents, as teachers, and as members of society. Not only have kids seemingly gotten nastier to each other over the years, they have also latched on to new forms of technology as ways of tormenting other students, and that torment takes an emotional toll that may never completely fade.
For instance, I still hear the taunting voices of those idiot girls in the middle-school gym locker room every time I try on a pair of pants that isn’t quite big enough. I still remember how they managed to holler and still sound sing-song as they chanted “Fat girl, fat girl, stupid whale fat girl” as I hid from them in the locker room bathroom stall. And those words weren’t emblazoned on a computer screen anywhere, where people unrelated to the problem could read the words and share them with others. The hateful words were ephemeral (however long they’ve lasted in my memory aside); words said on the Internet are out there for all who want to see and share.
How do We Combat This?
Trying to combat cyberbullying is as difficult as fighting verbal and physical bullying in schools. As much as teachers may try to keep it from happening, they simply cannot be everywhere and hear everything at once. Incidents will slip through their fingers, try as they might; I should know, I tried to stop all the bullying in my own classrooms and ended up tired with no triumph in sight. Cyberbullying is just as difficult, if not more so, to police. How can you punish someone who is using an anonymous or assumed name, anyway?
But attempts should be made to educate students about what constitutes bullying/cyberbullying, as well as how to keep away from bullying online. Also, parents and teachers should be educated on how to document cases of cyberbullying (and its close cousin, cyberstalking), and how to talk to their kids/students about speaking and acting respectfully to other kids.
In my opinion, students who are being bullied online/after school hours should try the following:
- Only accept friend-requests and follow requests from those people you like and trust.
- Restrict access to your page to “Friends Only” or “Followers Only”.
- Keep anyone who is not friends with your account from posting on your page.
- Don’t give out your phone number to anyone but closest friends, so that bullies won’t call or text (that’s another, rarely-policed outlet for abuse!)
- Create an online pseudonym for your profiles (with only the vaguest details about you), so that people from school/real life do not recognize you.
- If all else fails, delete social network accounts so that other students have fewer online targets to hit.
Furthermore, parents and teachers can be part of the fight against cyberbullying by trying the following:
- Educate kids that “bullying is bullying,” no matter where/when it happens, and it IS a big deal.
- Make it clear that bullying can lead to other criminal acts against people, like robbery, battery, stalking, and murder. After all, if you devalue other people enough to insult them verbally or digitally, how long before you begin devaluing them enough to think that stealing from them is okay, or that killing them is okay?
- Show kids that online comments can be traced back to them through IP addresses on computers and other devices–the Internet does not promise total anonymity. If their comments are serious enough, they could end up in jail.
These are only suggestions, but I believe these tips for students, parents, and teachers might help kids who are suffering this kind of after-hours bullying. (I hate thinking that bullying victims would have to police their online lives so severely, even resorting to “hiding” from online activity, but if it helps the situation blow over, it might be worth the temporary work and inconvenience.) I remember all too well going through bullying on school grounds–the last thing any kid needs is to have that stuff follow them home.
For More Information
More about the MySpace Suicide Case