This is a link to today’s episode of Fresh Air looks at the subject of Cyber-Bullying. I can’t recommend it enough to parents, teachers and ministers alike. Emily Bazelon of Slate Magazine is interviewed about the subject because of her new book “Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.” The book details her research on a number of bullying cases and how schools, parents, and social media websites handled the crises as they arose. Then she gleans a number of key insights that she shares in the interview that are really helpful.
A couple takeaways for me:
Once your child is plugged in via a phone, ipad, or computer they are now open not only to a constant barrage of information and connection to friends, but also to the rapid-fire attacks of bullies.
“It really can make bullying feel like it’s 24/7,” Bazelon tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. Comparing it with her own experience as a young teenager, she says that “when I got home from school, there was a break. I didn’t have to deal with [my friends] directly, and I could sort of put myself back together in the afternoon and evening. Whereas now when you come home if you’re a victim of bullying, you’re likely to see this continue on a social media site or via texting.”
So while there may be pressure from kids and their friends to be connected to this vast world of social media, Bazelon gives good reason to wait until our children have the character and the wherewithal to manage the complexity of negotiations taking place online. Thus, as parents we need find what limits need to be set as our children enter this world – time restraints are only one piece, privacy, access to passwords, etc. are also questions she addresses. These limits can actually help to create a buffer and an entry point for parents who may need to mediate for a child if things get out of hand.
I also like that Bazelon suggests that we can work to create alternative spaces and communities where our kids are safe, grow in character and learn how to develop friendships and camaraderie offline. As someone who was bullied frequently in school, I found my safe groups among people in my karate class, track team and my church’s youth group. These and other groups like these have the possibility of providing alternative spaces for our kids so they can build friendships and even open up when something is wrong at school or with family.
We shouldn’t think that just because they are “digital natives” that they automatically know how to handle themselves and protect themselves in this brave new world.
*cover image from The Bully Project.