Last week a new study confirming how the popular kids were bully targets made the headlines. The study indicated that kids who were popular, but not at the top of the social hierarchy, were also bullied. Lead author of the report and professor at U.C. Davis, Robert Faris, found that in addition to the typical students who are marginalized or isolated in some way, “as kids are increasing in their social status they’re increasingly coming under fire from their peers.”
So good student achievers and athletes, whose accomplishments and accolades set them apart, are perceived as aspiring to become “top dog” and therefore vulnerable.
This affirms for me that the power of cyber communications emboldens many more to become the bully, and intimidates even more to remain silent or pile on while personal attacks escalate to murderous, hateful comments about a person’s physical appearance and character.
I believe the modern child experiences a bully climate in ways we cannot perceive unless we experience it at their age. The drama we experienced as adolescents without cyber connectivity is amplified for the modern teen; and it can easily take on a life of its own in the form of personal attack that sometimes convinces you that you cannot survive, or worse yet, that there is no point in surviving it. Did you have an arch nemesis in middle or high school? What would she have done with an Instagram or Twitter account?
An anonymous teacher said it beautifully: “There are more bad apples and many more swing voters.”
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
After a decade of prayer, fieldwork, research and writing about the impact of the network culture on kids and families, I have concluded that our cyber-powered children can land on a deserted island in the realm of hearts and minds, wherein a “’Lord of the Flies’ group think” prevails in plain sight. Unchecked, youth can become completely isolated from their relationship with God and family. Compounding the isolating power of texting and social media, the standard of civility that previous generations experienced as “norms” is obscured when cyber-powered peer communities become the point of reference for life.
It is up to parents and educators to take a proactive role and advocate for a peaceful society when drama becomes a cyber-powered attack.
How to advocate for your child and justice for all
- Be clear about the difference between conflict and bullying. Conflict happens when there is dissention or disagreement among equals; bullying happens when there is perceived difference in power (i.e., one party is perceived as physically or emotionally vulnerable or of lower social standing) and that power differential is leveraged to attack.
- Don’t fan the flames of fear and anger. Advocate for your child with the aim of justice for all – not vengeance. Your state of heart and mind matters. (Romans 12:2)
- Document the harassment (capture screen shots and text dumps), and make sure your child does not respond to the attacks.
- Follow the directions in your child’s school parent handbook for filing a bullying complaint (Education Code Section 234.1(b) & (f)) which must be publicized. Do not allow school officials to minimize it. Insist that the policy be followed. School districts are required to post annually and update support resources to youth who have been subjected to school-based discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying and their families on their websites. A list of these resources must also be provided to each school within the district (Education Code Section 234.5)
- Take action to shield. If you have concern for your child’s safety, you may need to relocate your child, and/or cancel the phone/social media accounts. You may need to cancel your child’s mobile phone number and close social media accounts.
- Report hate speech via texting or social media to the FBI.
- New Tools.“Seth’s Law” is a new law that strengthens existing state anti-bullying laws to help protect all California public school students. Seth’s Law requires public schools in California to update their anti-bullying policies and programs, and it focuses on protecting students who are bullied based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/gender expression, as well as race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability, and religion.
- Know the law. There are federal laws that protect your child’s civil rights on school campuses. Do not allow others to minimize abuse as acceptable or a phase. Your child needs to understand the importance of standing your ground with confidence in the face of an abuser. For more about the laws protecting the civil rights of a child being harassed and cyber-attacked, contact: BRAVE Society.
Additional advocacy resources
(Thank you Lisa Ford Berry, founder of BRAVE Society, for your contributions to this article.)
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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