I am, as is everyone I know, opposed to bullying in every form. Cyber-bullying, which seems at the present to be the prevalent form of bullying, is ugly and invasive, yet is also difficult to define. Sadly, many parents consider bullying as something other people's children do Few parents seem equate the actions of their own offspring with cyber-bullying, or seem willing to consider that their own offspring are capable of such an anti-social act. Cyber-bullying is what happens to one's child as opposed to what one's child perpetrates against another kid.
Moreover, the term bullying is an imperfect and imprecise term, existing sometimes primarily in the eye of the beholder. When does a text message or interaction on social media cross the line between free speech and cyber-bullying? Kids insult one another. My parents and their peers did it, my acquaintances and I did as well, and so do today's kids. Today's youth are more seriously harmed by the insults that occur via texting or social media because it's so difficult to get away from it. They're also more severely hurt by it, in my opinion, because they've been raised as precipus and protected entities who are unable to withstand any negative feedback whatsoever. I'm not suggesting that it's OK for groups of youth to torment a single youth and tell the kid to off himself or herself. That's so clearly over the line that there's no real defense for it.
But what about the insults that aren't particularly threatening and aren't suggesting that the recipient remove himself or herslef from the planet? I have, as has almost everyone, been on the receiving end of insults on occasion. When I was in seventh-grade, in a classroom political debate that, through very poor supervision on the part of an incompetent teacher, quickly degraded into an exchange of barbs, I was first called "Anorexisis" by a rather clever classmate. The name quickly caught on. I held myself together at school that day as the moniker gained momentum, but went crying to my mother's office after school. My mom wisely did not plant herself in my principal's office the next day. While she was appropriately sympathetic with my plight, she told me that how much and how brutally I would be tormented with the name was almost entirely contingent upon my reaction to it. She said that i needed either to laugh it off, to act bored by it, or, if a person persisted in insulting me, to retaliate in kind, but that it would serve me well to hide any anger or hurt feelings when doing so. She told me that, in the unlikely event that I was ever in trouble for responding to an oral insult with one of my own choosing, as long as I wasn't profane, she and my father would stand by me. My not-particularly-kind peers soon learned the hard way that they couldn't win a war of insults with me. I'm not proud of having made other kids cry, but sometimes hurtful words can be fought only with other hurtful words.
I didn't have texting capacity on my cell phone during most of my school days. Rare if not unheard-of is the middle-class teen in today's world who does not have access to text-capable phones and social media. Parents are quick to allow access to such media, but then are quick to complain when their offspring face victimization through channels they, the parents, allowed. In particular, parents are quick to blame school personnel for cyber-bullying. In almost no cases are school personnel legitimately at fault for cyber-bullying. Even if it doesn't happen during non-school times (which it usually does), it happens almost exclusively with the use of technological devices not provided to young people by the school system. Do parents think it is fair if their own offspring are disciplined by school administrators following social media or text message exchanges happening during non-school hours? The answer is almost universally no. Why, then would parents expect the school to discipline someone else's kid for the same thing? The school lacks jurisdiction in most instances of cyber-bullying.
I shall share a slightly convoluted story involving one of my relatives and improper use of technology. My mom has been a school psychologist and school administrator. When almost anyone in the family has an issue with their offsrpring's school, he or she often phones my mom. In a recent happening, my cousin, who is a teacher of advanced mathematics in a high school, answered her door to find her district superintendent [and boss] on her doorstep. The superintendent showed my cousin obscene and harassing text messages on his own daughter's cell phone, which came from my cousin's son's cell phone number. The girl had recently broken off a relationship with my cousin's son. When he was confronted, my cousin's son said that his cell-phone had been stolen. My cousin believed him, but her husband, the boy's father, didn't. He searched the kid's room and found the cell phone. My cousin's kid then said it must have been one of his friends who stole the phone and left the messages, and the friend must then have hidden the phone in my cousin's kid's room.
My cousin believed her son. My mom told her that was ridiculous. My mom also asked my cousin if her kid had ever lost his phone previously. My cousin answered affirmatively. My mom asked how she learned that her son had lost his phone the previous time. My cousin answered that her son immediately asked for a new phone. My mom asked her why the son didn't ask for a new phone this time. My cousin still tried to make excuses, but my mom told her she was ignoring logic as well as enabling the kid.
My point here isn't that my cousin is stupid, though she behaved stupidly in the previous instance. The point is that a normally intelligent person [my cousin] was willing to believe improbable if not absurd lies her kid came up with that made no sense at all because parents often don't want to believe that their own offspring are capable of anti-social behavior. If cyber-bullying is rampant, however, someone has to be guilty of committing the actual bullying. The parents of the world need to acknowledge that their kids are capable of being the victims as well as the perpetrators.
Parents need to monitor their kids' online and cell-phone activity. When I was in high school, my brother and I didn't own our own computers and had to use those belonging to our parents when we needed online access. Both my parents' computers were equipped with programs that tracked every keystroke typed on their computers, every bit of pasted text, and every website visited. They checked their computers at least every other day. My brother had a phone with text capacity, but every text he sent or received went to a program on my mom's computer. We weren't allowed to use Facebook, but had my brother or I been on either the giving or receiving end of text- cyber-bullying, my parents would likely have known. Too many of today's parents are not similarly vigilant.
Parents are the only ones who have any real power to stop cyber-bullying. Those parents who lack the technological skill to employ the tools necessary to monitor their offspring shoulld either acquire those skills or should limit the access of their own offspring to tools they, the parents, do not fully understand, or, at the very least, should impose limitations once their offspring have abused cyber-privileges in any way. Access to technology for youth should be viewed as a privilege and not as an absolute right.