Bullying has been around as long as kids have existed. From ancient caves to Elizabethan towns to modern elementary schools, there has always been a layer of kids deriving sick pleasure from victimizing other kids.
As modern technology has given us new ways to work, play, create and interact, it has also offered some of our crueler kids new avenues for torment: online bullying.
Now that this phenomenon has a running death toll, we had better figure out what to do about it.
The old-school rules of bullying were: Teach your kids to fight back, or at least report bullying to school authorities (which usually intensified the bullying). If all else failed, maybe victims’ parents would visit bullies’ parents to deliver a subtle recommendation to get their little monsters in line.
So now that kids are being psychologically bullied on the Internet, how much of this logic, from back in the era of wedgies in the stairwell, still works?
More than you might think.
We will never stop bullying. So, just as we know drugs and the poisons of popular culture will not vanish, our best goal is to insulate our kids against them.
“Just say no” was the most brilliant anti-drugs campaign ever. Ridiculed as simplistic, its simplicity was its strongest virtue. All the drugs and pushers in the world are no threat to anyone simply refusing to partake.
Grossly inappropriate music, video games, TV and movies swirl constantly, but we can protect our kids (up to a point) by controlling their exposure to such things.
Which brings us to online bullying and stories like the recent suicide of a Florida teenager who just couldn’t take the Web taunts any longer.
Our already breaking hearts should tear further at the sheer preventability of this. You can’t keep some big adolescent lummox from giving your son a swirlie in the boys’ room, but you can sure give your kids all they need to withstand the scourge of Internet derision.
If ignoring bullies in real life is wise, it is positively essential if they are coming at our kids on Facebook. Bullies live for the reaction. Denied it, they will slink toward other targets. Our kids cannot be bullied online if they are not on the sites where it occurs.
I love that I can see my cousins’ vacation photos and the families of high school buddies, but allowing our middle schoolers to have Facebook pages might not have been the brightest idea.
If we do not shut down our kids’ social media entirely, they should be policed constantly. Since we know where threatening content comes from, we may have to slide onto our kids’ pages to inform any little snot-nosed stalkers that they need to back off or taste some consequences from grownups, some of whom might wear police uniforms.
But most importantly, we must raise tougher kids. We cannot allow the thickening of a narrative that begins to naturally lead from online bullying to suicide. This cannot become a familiar progression seen by countless victimized kids who think, well, this is what usually happens.
We must tell our kids not to feel defined by the online cruelty of their hoodlum classmates. Before things even begin to get out of hand, we should surround them with the certainty of parents who love them, and in households of faith, the comfort of a God who loves them.
Those assurances provide shields against the coarseness of the meanest online barb. No bully can darken the heart of a child wrapped in that kind of love.
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