Cyber bullying has become more and more commonplace in schools, seemingly replacing or becoming part of common playground bullying. This issue has been brought into the forefront on the heels of the suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly broadcast a Web video of him having a same-sex sexual encounter. Why do kids bully, do you think? What can parents and school officials do to put an end to it?
Cyber bullying seems to appear to some teens as an acceptable way to harass or bully their victims. After all, they are not physically beating up their victim, right? Cyber bullying is a cowardly act because the one who is perpetrating the crime is sitting at their computer keyboard.
However, the intent to harm or inflict emotional pain upon their victim carries the same responsibility as if they had actually caused bodily injury.
The Oct. 18, 2010, issue of People magazine has a cover article, titled Teen Suicide Tragedies: Deadly Bullying. The article is well worth everyone's time to read and think about how adults can turn this negative and destructive energy of "bullying" around.
From a spiritual level, I would suggest that parents, educators, religious educators, volunteers, mentors and the court system encourage the important qualities of respect and tolerance for others.
At the same time that we are putting forth the message of respect and tolerance, I would suggest that we all adopt a "No Tolerance" attitude toward all forms of bullying, cyber or otherwise.
We all must take a stand to encourage respect and tolerance and an equal stand toward refusing to accept or tolerate bullying. If the "bullies" realize their actions will carry serious consequences, I believe that we will reduce the incidents of bullying.
The Rev. Jeri Linn
Unity Church of the Valley,
They (not all kids of, course) do it because they can, it is technologically feasible and no one is stopping them. Bullying has gone cyber because that is where kids live much of their social lives today. The cyber world is a coarser version of reality, amplifying hateful speech and making bad behavior easier. Factor in that the human brain is still developing into the 20s , especially in the areas governing higher-order thinking. Impulse control comes slower than impulsive thoughts in young people.
The reference to "common playground bullying" speaks of fountain squirting, pigtail pulling and other recess high jinks, but given the recent horrific instances of the hounding to death of gay teenagers, I can't help but think of them in responding to our question.
In last Saturday's New York Times, writer Samuel G. Freedman tallys four gay teen suicides over the course of the previous three week period. We don't know that church members were involved or the perpetrators influenced by anti-gay statements by religious leaders, but messages out there in the culture like "God hates gayness" or even worse, "God hates gays," certainly don't help. Casual use of "gay" as a pejorative, as some media guy did recently to describe, I believe, an electric car, also contributes to a hostile environment for gays.
How to end it? To me there is no government too big or "nanny state" too watchful when it comes to protecting those, like children, who cannot fend for themselves. With enough school counselors, teachers and other care workers, screened, trained and paid well enough, and parents whose lives are more than a struggle for basic livelihood, each child would have the individual attention to notice and tend to the needs of both the victimized and the predators. We protect children from hot stoves and guns (well, reasonable adults do, anyway), physically separating them until they are old enough to understand the danger. Only the same Buttinski vigilance with other technology will keep children safe.
I know why kids do it. They are born with a sinful nature that's finding a way to express itself. All of us are born the same, and left to our own designs we become selfish, vengeful and generally bad behaviored. In church we discover that much of what comes naturally to us is not what God wants to see cultivated, and so we slowly move from what is natural to what is supernatural.
Everyone is in process, and just as developing moral fiber comes piecemeal, so does its destruction. We've all encountered bullies as children; but adult bullies are far more dangerous than their elementary school counterparts, yet that's where they apparently got started.
As parents, we need to be proactive. I recall when parents would physically take their kid and confront the other child's parents, and generally there would be mutual desire to mete out apologies and punishment. I think only recently any of us became aware of cyber bullying, but it should be treated similarly. It's got to go both ways though. If your kid spreads some awful rumor about mine all over Facebook, then you have to be parent enough to come down hard and reprimand your own, as well as make amends with mine. I'll do likewise.
Gossip is evil, and so is humiliating others by broadcasting their private affairs. We have to teach our kids about right and wrong, and hold them accountable. Since this stuff involves wire transfer of information, it seems there could and should be legal repercussions. If bullies see they can be charged with crimes associated with privacy invasion, slander, physical threats or property destruction, they should think twice.
In the meantime, let's get our kids back in church before our whole society goes barbarian — cyber or otherwise.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church,
Why do kids do it, engage in cyber-bullying? Because on some level, kids can be cruel, maybe without even knowing how badly they hurt some people. Also, there is a one-upsmanship element: If I can show how silly or "uncool" you are, then maybe I become "cool" as a result. As we all heard as kids, bullies are simply covering up their own fears, and if they can throw the spotlight on somebody else, then their warts don't become as obvious.
What can be done? I hate to sound incredibly naïve, but do the bully and his family go to religious services regularly? Do the parents teach their little bullies about thinking about others? And do the parents set good examples themselves? You've heard that actions speak louder than words, or the quote, "The way you live speaks so loudly that I can hardly hear a thing you say."
So parents need to be good role models. And a few controls on computer usage by the possible bully might be in line as well.
The Rev. C. L. "Skip" Lindeman,
La Cañada Congregational Church,
Bullying basically comes from a sense of powerlessness in a person's life. Many have been victims of abuse, shame or trauma themselves. Having been hurt in their own lives, they feel a sense of emptiness and lack of control; thus, they seemingly feel they gain it by bullying others.
Cyber bullying may be an easier way for kids to bully who may not have the nerve to do it in person. Bullying can be overt in person; covert online. Cyber bullies hurt inside and need an outlet, yet do not have the nerve to confront their victim in person. Cyber bullying releases their aggression without having to face anyone.
The thing about cyber bullying is that it can be more damaging to a victim and their reputation than bullying in person. More people can see it, it can cause greater embarrassment to its victim and it is often more painful than a shove in the hall.
The key to ending bullying is confrontation — exposing it to the light. Being afraid allows the darkness and hidden activity to continue. Exposing it lets the bully know you are on to them.
Parents and teachers need to confront kids and bullies for the above reason. What is hidden will remain. What is brought to light, we have the power to stop. It requires educating the victim that bullying is not right nor will it be tolerated. It takes adults who follow through on protection. This teaches the bully that they won't get away with it and it potentially opens the door for communication and healing for the bully as well.
La Vie Counseling Center,
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure why so many children do horrible things to each other, but my guess is that it's a combination of unrestrained human nature and exposure to negative influences.
Most children feel very strong emotions, and often act on impulse without considering any long-term consequences — which is a potentially volatile mixture. Kids have been taunting each other — and worse — since day one: the Bible relates that Cain and Abel, the two first children to have walked this earth, were at each other's throats — literally — even when there was precious little to fight over. They had the entire world to themselves, yet they turned to bullying and, ultimately, to fratricide.
This is a dark side of human nature that we must be cognizant of and try to reduce as part of our continuous quest toward the improvement of humanity.
And then there is the fact that young, impressionable minds often follow the patterns set by others. Adults should remember that children always learn by example and experience rather than by inherently grasping high principles. We can preach to a child for hours on end about the virtues of living a morally correct life, but all it takes is one glimpse of corruption to push that child toward bad behavior. Whether it's watching an adult behaving badly at home or feeling pressure from a peer group at school, children often absorb and mimic the influences they see around them.
I feel that a large part of the solution to this bullying problem lies in one simple word: communication. Parents should be proactive in their approach to child-rearing. They need to be continuously talking with their children about everything in their lives — even if it may seem "unimportant" — so that there is always an open line of communication.
In the event that a problem arises (and they always do), it then becomes so much easier to resolve it by engaging in a frank, honest discussion.
From the articles I read, it seems that most professionals are advising parents on ways to protect their children from cyber bullying. Curiously, I found very little mention of monitoring to ensure that your child is not the bully. Parents have a moral responsibility to watch over their children, ensure proper behavior, and discipline their kids when necessary to ensure a safe environment for everyone. Especially in the online world, where would-be bullies can pick on their victims from a distance — and sometimes hide behind a cloak of anonymity — we must be vigilant to ensure that new technology isn't used to perpetrate acts of cruelty.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center,
I was watching an old black and white movie last weekend where a group of high school kids were bullying another student. While it wasn't cyber bullying, it made the point in my mind that it's not the new medium that is to blame, but the act itself.
Unfortunately, bullies are always going to exist. The best weapon against bullying, whether it is on the playground or in cyberspace, is teaching children self-esteem. Doing so will keep them safer than any limits we as parents could ever impose on cell phone and Internet usage.
In Carlos Castaneda's book, "The Teachings of Don Juan — A Yaqui Way of Knowledge," the author writes of Don Juan's opinion toward anger.
"I'm never angry at anybody! No human being can do anything important enough for that. You get angry at people when you feel their acts are important. I don't feel that way any longer," Don Juan told Castaneda.
Placing importance on another's opinion gives bullying its power. It fuels anger and in doing so perpetuates a desire to lash out — either at others or at ourselves.
Diffusing that power is a matter of giving your child a true sense of self, so that no matter what is thrown at them, it will not hurt them permanently. That isn't to say that a peer's words or actions won't sting in the short term. We are all human and prone to having our feelings hurt. But good self-esteem will allow a child to rise above the bullying and see themselves for what they truly are and not what an individual or group presumes them to be.
This kind of self-aware thinking will help children get through the turbulent peer-pressure-packed school days and serve them well as they go out into the world where we parents can't protect them at all times.
I shudder to think of where I'd be if my parents hadn't taught me to listen to my inner voice instead of investing heavily on the opinions of those around me. That is what I try to teach my kids.
"Cursed be anyone who strikes down a neighbor in secret," it says in the giving of the law (Deuteronomy 27:24).
Yet, that never seemed to stop anyone. The following psalms were written almost 4,000 years ago. Bullying wasn't new then, and it's not new now. It is a heartbreaking reality of human nature that people are cruel to one another — especially when they think no one is watching.
"Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me. … All day long they seek to injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk, they watch my steps" (Psalm 56:1, 5-6).
"Even now the bloodthirsty lie in wait for my life; the mighty stir up strife against me. … There they are, bellowing with their mouths, with sharp words on their lips— for "Who," they think, "will hear us?" (Psalm 59:2, 7)
"[The mouths of the wicked] are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. They think in their heart, 'God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.' Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed." (Psalm 10:7-12)
The answers for parents remain the same: give your child the best foundation of self-esteem that you can, protect them from the most vicious predators, and be there to comfort them when cruelty happens.
Try as we might, we can't keep our children from getting hurt. We can only strengthen their souls as best we can.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church,