Mother and son hugging

Because of teen suicides reported in the news, our national attention has been focused on cyber bullying. No longer do we worry about the loud mouth school bully who pushes kids in the hall and name calls. Now, the academically bright and capable kids can use cyberspace as a weapon for jealousy, envy and shear meanness. Taunting others with text messages, Facebook slandering and yes, throwing energy drinks in the face of hall walkers, are just a few of the ways bullying now happens.

Today’s bullies work in groups and on-line. As they target specific kids, they are less overt than their predecessors and more anonymous given the cloak of cyberspace. Their methods include humiliating teens through gossip, rumor, videos and nasty text messages. Bullying can be relentless because of 24/7 access in cyberspace. No one really knows the direct causes of the rise of cyber bullying but we can certainly speculate on what seems to make sense. For years, we have witnessed the loss of supervised play in schools due to budget cuts—no recess and physical education. When kids lose the opportunities to engage in structured and unstructured play, they don’t learn to get along and work out their peer-to-peer issues.

Teens are bombarded with violence, meanness and rudeness in the media they consume. Marketing is self-focused. It is all about what you deserve, want and must have-raising the level of entitlement and selfishness to a new high. Religious education is waning, moral standards are relative and many parents are plain ignorant as to what is happening on-line with their teens. Add to this the unwillingness of teens to “judge” someone or report bullying behavior and you have the potential for trouble. The result: A culture of teens who think meanness gets you a reality TV spot; imitation of violent and inappropriate behavior often glamorized in media; and unsupervised cyber behavior that is out of control.

How many teens will commit suicide before we wake up and realize we don’t laugh when someone teases the underdog? We stand up to the bully using “the swarm” tactic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULCHUGxy-Sg ). There is strength in numbers. We don’t sit by idly when someone is bullied because we don’t want to “judge” or rat on the person. We discipline our children for rude and mean behavior when they are young and stop making excuses for them.

We control adult behavior so teens don’t model entitlement and meanness. We take a zero tolerance approach to bullying and stop justifying it as an act of passage. We write complaint letters to irresponsible media distributors. We embarrass the bullies by making the public aware and outing them. We get on-line and check our teen’s social media. We are willing to report problems to authorities and encourage our teens to do the same.

Check out the Bully Project!

What are your ideas to stop cyber bullying?

Dr. Linda is the author of Raising Healthy Kids in an unhealthy world (Thomas Nelson, 2008). And while the focus of this book is on children and weight control, the chapter on media also discusses the saturation of media our children face and the impact it has on their development.


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