Beyond Bullying

Earlier this week, my son's teacher scribbled a note in his agenda, "Children's book author presenting on Cyber bullying at 7pm Thursday night."

I found it ironic that someone in the field of cyber anything would commit to print on a topic that changes faster than the ink could dry, but more concerning is the disconnect between the issue and how it is addressed by the administration.  The message is to not bully and to report to an adult if someone does bully. Sadly, this approach is flawed as it didn't work when I was a child, and doesn't work now.

As a child, I was bullied in school.  I didn't tell my parents or the teachers.  I was embarrassed, convinced that it was my fault. Because I wet my pants in grade two, wrote a secret note about a boy that was shared with the class, or because I said something utterly stupid. Whatever the reason, what was happening to me was my fault, and I was too humiliated to share with anyone, never mind my parents or a teacher, who would only exasperate the problem. So it is that most cases of bullying go unreported.

Fast-forward forty-years, with the advent of social media and the smart phone, opportunities to bully and exploit, have exploded.

In my opinion, the single greatest threat to our children is the smart phone.

cell phone image

Three-quarters of teens in the US have a smart phone and a full 95% use the smart phone for internet access. (source link:  Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015) These phones allow children to take photographs and manipulate content that can easily go viral through social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat, without anyone knowing the initial source.  My story is when a photo of my then six-year-old went viral through SnapChat. It was taken on the school bus without his knowledge,  transmitted to thousands of strangers before finding its way to his sister in college, 4,000 miles away, who then forwarded it to me, exclaiming, "OMG _THATS MY BROTHER!!!"

I don't know who took the picture, or if that photo is still circulating the web, but I know it initiated from a teenager with a smart phone and SnapChat.

In my opinion, Smartphones should not be allowed in schools. Good old fashioned cell phones, circa 1999, that do not have a camera or access to the internet, are acceptable and comparably safe in the hands of our youth. There are also software programs available that would allow schools to monitor social media activity within the school, which I know, sounds "big brother", but there are situations of bullying and even violent crime, that might have been avoided if monitoring had been in place. Of course it is a debate between privacy and security, and it's not likely to be resolved any time soon.

Finally, I believe that far more education around the issue of sharing needs to become part of the curriculum and part of family education. Parents, siblings, and grandparents alike need to be aware of the issues of sharing photos of themselves and of their children, online. Pedophile websites harvest photos of children from social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, without a parent ever knowing it has occurred. Situations such as the following: ( Instagram photos of babies used for sexual role play ) are rampant on the web, and growing ever more prolific, every day.

It's a time when I don't believe that talking about "cyber bullying" is enough, nor does it address a problem that is literally exploding above our heads in the world of "the cloud". I sincerely hope that we can collaborate on a plan to protect our children and our families in this new frontier, even if don't always completely agree or understand it.

Ultimately, as I read the note in my son's agenda, the response is one of dread. I feel as though we are doing too little, too late and I worry about the world my son is growing into, as it is far different that the one I knew when I was a child. The bullying existed then as it does now, but with the internet, the harassment is far reaching, and the memory is forever.