Last month I attended a workshop on cyberbullying. Since then I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit, in part because I have begun teaching lessons on CB to my students, in even larger part due to the amount of CB I see among adults every day. While I watch the news on tv every evening I do check the news online frequently and occasionally I scroll down to read the comments and see the discussion that is happening. More often than not that is a BIG mistake, a HUGE mistake. It never ceases to amaze me just how nasty human beings can be to one another simply because they are behind a screen and supposedly “anonymous”. Is it any wonder our children are beginning to do the same thing?
The thing is cyberbullying has been around for as long as people have been able to communicate via technology. One of my fave actors Wil Wheaton has mentioned numerous times in his blogs about his days as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. People disliked his character so much they set up message boards just to discuss how the character should be killed. OK I get not liking a fictional character but really plotting ways to kill said character? And as Wil tells it some of these people didn’t stop with simply hating Wesley, they hated him too. He still gets nasty comments online as do many stars. The anonymity seems to be too freeing for many.
I live in Missouri, in the St. Louis area to be exact. Just across the Missouri river lies St. Charles where Megan Meier was cyberbullied by an adult, the mother of a former friend who lived just down the street. Megan took her own life. Her mother has made it her life’s mission to help stop cyberbullying. A few years ago my friend Jen and I went to hear her speak at Jen’s daughter’s school and it was powerful. She shared her website: Megan Meier Foundation, and shared what she had told the students at that school.
I don’t know the best way to stop cyberbullying. I know that I teach my students about it in technology and we review OVER AND OVER AND OVER to tell a trusted adult. My kindy and first graders still don’t give that as a first response but my second graders do so it’s sinking in and I’m glad because two of my fourth grade girls told me just yesterday about cyberbullying they were seeing on the online game Animal Jam. This is what gets me the most, it’s happening younger and younger. Kids are cyberbullying on Animal Jam, Minecraft, and Club Penguin for crying out loud. I have students in kindergarten that access those sites/games.
The prevalence of cyberbullying by adults seems to be even greater on articles about religion or politics. I know these topics bring out incredibly strong feelings in people but the instinct to lash out doesn’t seem to be fought as it might be when one is having a conversation like that in a public place. When replying to articles adults need to take a minute, think about what they are saying, is it a well-thought argument, is it a valid question, or is it an emotional response to someone else. Skip the emotional responses. If more people would simply ignore the “trolls” and report them, maybe this issue would diminish. The problem is I even see responses that say “don’t feed the trolls” even this lets those trying to stir up trouble know they’ve been noticed. Don’t comment at all. Certainly don’t comment with generalizations about those _____________ (fill in the blank with whatever political party or religious slur you’ve seen, I thought about doing it for you but I don’t want to spread those words, they already get enough use.
I think a lot of the time I really just want to say to these people, “GROW UP! ACT YOUR AGE! LET IT GO! (which now leads to singing lol). Please think about the example you are setting for your children, for anyone’s children. In this society where we talk so much about tolerance maybe we need to practice it more online. Maybe we all need to be reminded to live by the Golden Rule online as well as in everyday life.