Bullying should not be tolerated

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bullying is a serious problem that's been in the news a lot lately. There is the man who got on a school bus and directly confronted the kids that were bullying his daughter and is now being taken to court for his actions, and then there are the recent reports of young person who turned to suicide in the aftermath of incidents of bullying. It's a topic that deserves America's attention, and in particular, it's something parents need to keep an eye on.

When I was young, bullying was something that was contained to the confines of the playground or school hallways. Now, bullying has taken a new, more dangerous form. In this day and age, there's something known as cyberbullying.

By definition, cyberbullying is "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices." Probably, the most famous case of cyberbullying involved a young teen from Missouri named Megan Meier who committed suicide after becoming the target of a harassment campaign conducted over the Internet by an adult posing as a teenage boy. The woman was the mother of a girl who did not like Megan.

It's a sad, sad story that resulted in the state of Missouri adopting a law that outlawed cyberbullying and changed the harassment and stalking laws to include messages sent by computers and other electronic means. Last month, another new law relating to cyberbullying went into effect mandating that all school districts in Missouri address cyberbullying in their discipline policies.

Both of these laws are necessary, and if nothing else, they make people aware that bad words, negative messages and threats sent over the Internet are serious business and can bring about serious consequences for the sender.

From talking to area school administrators, I believe local districts are aware of the problem of cyberbullying and are trying to educate their students about the topic. I also believe that there is only so much that schools can do to police what young people are sending out into cyberspace.

Once again, this is an issue that must be addressed in the home first. Children must be taught Internet etiquette, and they must be held accountable for how they are communicating with others through texting or messaging or e-mailing.

As research shows, more and more kids have access to computers and social networking sites. Based on the latest statistics, 73 percent of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 use social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

It is my contention that schools can not combat cyberbullying alone. Parents must also stay involved and monitor their children's Internet activity.

I treated my young sons with respect and dignity, but they also knew that the concept f privacy could not be used as a way to hide bad behavior. As long as we were paying the bills, their computers and phone records were fair game.

While they were in high school, we had one computer that they shared. This computer was located in a loft area that was out in the open where anyone could see what they were doing on the computer. We also periodically ran a history of what sites they were visiting. This system worked for us, and I urge parents to come up with their own way to track the time their children are spending on the Internet and on their cell phones.

Keep the lines of communication open and urge your child to come to you if she or he has been the target of cyberbullying or bullying of any kind. Based on information provided by the Stop Cyberbullying website, children should be taught to "Stop, block and tell." They should first "stop" and not do anything if they receive a hurtful or harassing message. They could be tempted to respond and escalate the situation or retaliate and become a cyberbully themselves. The next step is to "block" the cyberbully or limit all communications to those on the child's "friends" list. The third step is to "tell" a trusted adult. Cyberbullying should not be tolerated under any circumstances.