March 12, 2013

If Bullying Was A Disease Would We Have A Cure Already?

by

 

There is no federal law for bullying or cyberbullying. Few state laws are clear enough to actually do anything. We need more than window-dressing.

I think 2013 will be the year the national conversation about bullying and cyberbullying comes front and center. Sure, people have been talking about bullying and the effects of cyberbullying for a few years. We have all the YouTube videos of kids and their cards telling horrific stories of being bullied. They get passed around on social networks and are part of conversations for a few days. Then we move on and go about our business. There’s no call to action, other than some type of social share.

At the beginning of March, Anderson Cooper started what will likely be a sea of change. He dedicated one hour of his show to the movie Bully. There was a live discussion on Twitter under the hashtag #bullyeffect. It got the conversation started on a very public national level. I watched it and was blow away at how much the movie was able to capture. Kids have killed themselves. 11-year old kids who are bullied in school or on the way to or from school. This movie is mainly about the physical and verbal acts of bullying that occur at school. I came away from this program horrified at how out of touch some school officials are when it comes to how they should deal with reports of bullying by the kids and their parents. I was angry and frustrated that the program didn’t offer much in the way of how we can stop this epidemic. I haven’t seen the full movie, so I’m hopeful there is more information about taking action.

Prior to the Anderson Cooper program, my friend Christi and I had been talking about ways we can help with this antibullying message in the school our daughters attend. While our girls haven’t been physically beaten, the fact is that my daughter has been bullied by a few classmates and her daughter has often been the one to help ease the emotional effects. Together, our girls have been trying to develop an anti-bullying club at their school for the past several months. To the school’s credit, the teachers and principal have been willing to hear both of us. And while the teacher is doing a great deal of classroom management, we don’t feel that the school, as a whole, is understanding the full import the long-term effects of bullying will play in their lives.

When it comes to the cyber issues of bullying, that’s not an issue for BabyGirl. For the most part. She has had a blog, which I moderate, since she was 6 (although she doesn’t post to it now because she wants to change the name) and she has been allowed to chat online with select people we know in person. She does not have her own phone. And while she does have access to a phone that has texting capabilities, she rarely is anywhere without me, CycleGuy, or AuntZoni so there really is no need for her to be texting people.

When I was offered the opportunity to screen the producer’s cut of Submit: The Documentary, I wasn’t sure how relevant it would be for me. The movie is about cyberbullying. I’m here to say the movie is exceedingly relevant to every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, principal and educator. How our kids communicate with each other isn’t how we grew up. Many teens and tweens are more tech-savvy than their parents, leaving them vulnerable because parents don’t know what these technologies are capable of doing to our kids.

Kids are using technology in a different way than adults. The permanent nature of technology hasn’t sunk in to most kids. And, sadly, too many parents don’t fully realize the permanence that comes with texting, chats, forums, social networks, photo and video-sharing, and even creating cyber communities in online games. While many parents are concerned with adult predators online, we’re not educating ourselves about how all this technology works and is used by the kids.

It doesn’t matter how WE use it, it’s how THEY use it that matters!

Submit: The Documentary features the story of Megan Meier, the 13-year old girl who committed suicide because of the actions of an adult neighbor who posed as a teen boy. The country was heartbroken by her story. That was 6 years ago! 6 years and we’re stilling reading stories of kids taking their own lives because of bullying and cyberbullying. Why?

Documentaries often dig deep into the subject matter. The best part of Submit is the candid conversations with students. Honestly, there should have been more of that. The experts are necessary, as are the stories told by parents whose children have taken their own life due to cyberbulling. This documentary does that “next step” and discusses ways to prevent or stop bullying or cyberbulling. The key to changing the course of this epidemic is to say ENOUGH! And the way we do that is by no longer being a bystander. Every kid is affected by bullying either as a victim, a bully or onlooker. We have to rid ourselves of the thought that our kids don’t see this behavior. They do. And they’re not being educated or empowered to do anything. Submit, for the first time, suggests that the bystander is the key to solving this problem. Professor Sameer Hinduja suggests that bystanders who step up are the heroes. It’s the first time in a bullying education program I’ve heard clear support for encouraging our kids to stand up.

We need kids to step up and say they won’t tolerate the behavior. But we also need educators, administrators, law enforcement and laws that back up the bystanders who become up-standers. Bullying and cyberbullying won’t stop until the consequences of the bullying behavior are significant to the bully (and possibly their parents). We already know the consequences for the victim can be grave. What happens online does happen in person, and we’ve yet to figure out how to stop bullying. We can’t be naive and think that “if” it happened off-line we’d fix this – because it does happen off-line and we haven’t fixed it.

We can have all the anti-bullying clubs and wear [insert color] to support anti-bullying day. But until we demand that physical, emotional and verbal assaults by children toward other children is treated as the crime it is when it occurs between 2 adults we’ll be talking about this for years to come. And if we don’t see the cyber equivalent of bullying equally as serious we’re completely missing the boat.

The emotional toll of bullying doesn’t end when you’re no longer bullied. We don’t need studies to tell us that bullying affects us for our lifetime. We don’t need experts to rattle off statistics or data. We know. If you were bullied you’ve carried that with you.  I’m sure you can still recall the bully’s name, certain incidents, and even the name of those who stood up for you.

Why have we been so powerless? The lawmakers are our classmates from childhood. They know what happened. They know the long-term effects of bullying. They’ve listened to the stories of victims taking their own lives. They’ve heard the experts. Are we not loud enough? Are we not clear in what we want?

Then let’s change that! What can you do? Watch a FREE Screening of Submit: The Documentary and you’ll understand how together we can eradicate the disease we call bullying (both face to face and cyber). Then share it with your friends. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I read blogs and I see all the shares about bullying. I know it impacts you, your family, your friends because it impacts me, my friends and my family.

Map image courtesy of stopbullying.gov

Images with statistics courtesy of Submit: The Documentary

Disclosure: I was provided free access to the producer’s cut of Submit: The Documentary. I was not provided compensation for this review, nor was I required to write about the movie. All thoughts and opinions are mine. This article was not reviewed or edited by a third party. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sara

{ 3 comments }

Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust March 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Wow – I need to watch that video. I am SO scared for my daughter when she gets older. Cyber bullying is so scary and horrible!

Christi @ Love From The Oven March 12, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Wonderfully written. You’ve summed up my thoughts beautifully, but you always do. I just wish more people realized how important this issue is and that yes, it does impact them, their children, their families, their friends.

Michelle Dulansky March 13, 2013 at 9:15 am

Thank you for sharing this. my kids have been very fortunate and at my daughters high school they do suspend kids for cyper bullying. Unfortunatly, my nephew started a new school a couple weeks ago and was bullyed for being mixed. I can’t believe in this day we still are raising children with such narrow minded views.

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