I ran into a friend today who is also the parent of a child that used to come to one of my recreation programs frequently. For the sake of anonymity I’m going to call the child Sarah and the parent Michelle. All views expressed in this post are my own and in no way related to the families, communities or schools – just general thoughts on an important matter.

I hadn’t seen Michelle in months when I ran into her this afternoon so it was nice to randomly bump into her. We covered the usual catching up comments – “How’s your summer?” and so on. When I asked about her daughter Sarah something changed in her voice and my stomach sank with worry. Sarah had attended a new school this year and I had heard through the grapevine that things have been tough but nothing could have prepared me for the stories Michelle told me today. Not only were things not going well at school, but the bullying she was experiencing had carried over onto the internet… And it was awful! I was shocked by some of the things that had been said about Sarah online but even more shocked to hear who they came from, some other kids that I have known relatively well throughout the years.

Yes, I’m a teacher. Yes, I’ve heard a lot about cyberbullying. Yes, I’ve read the copious amounts of blog posts, news articles and the like about the topic. But no, I didn’t realize quite how much it would hurt when it was happening to someone in my life.

What I wasn’t prepared for today was the sinking feeling that there was absolutely nothing I could do in the situation. Watching Michelle cry, giving her a hug, telling her I was willing to help in anyway that I could… it felt like nothing. When she talked about the worry of suicide and self harm that often comes with this type of bullying I could see the grief in her eyes and I felt it too. I’m not a mother, the best I can do is imagine what kind of pain that must be to feel your child go through something so horrible – and imagining it hurts me deeply.

When will this stop? We can no longer blame Facebook or Twitter or whatever other social media fad comes next. Social media is here to stay and really, that’s not the problem anyways. The problem isn’t that people have anonymity online. The problem isn’t that schools can’t control the external environment. The problem isn’t that children have too much freedom on the computer.

The problem is that for some reason we have lost what it means to be caring and empathetic. We can’t seem to remember that the person on the other side of that comment/photo/video is a real human being. We have lost the respect for one another and seemingly the ability to accept each others’ differences.

And it is literally killing our youth.

Let’s stand up and speak out…

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Teachers – This is a real issue and saying that we can’t control what happens outside of the classroom isn’t good enough. We need to talk about it, we need to share the information, and we need to teach our students how to respect one another. We need to model appropriate behaviour and show students what respect looks like each and every day.

Parents – Remember that it is easy for kids to get wrapped up in the drama of being a pre-teen or teen and that may mean that a child forgets about the consequences of his or her words/actions. Remind them about the power they have to be a friend to those who need one. Remind them that they have a choice to make when it comes to how they act towards their peers at school, home or online.

As Karley would say, “We don’t all have to be friends, but we do have to be friendly.” And this doesn’t stop when children leave the school or the house. It doesn’t stop when a child signs onto an online profile. And quite frankly, it doesn’t stop when we become adults. It is true that in this world of technology it can be easy to hide behind anonymity, but what doesn’t make sense to me is that anonymity turns us into cruel, hurtful, and malicious people.

Let’s speak up about love, kindness and empathy. If we practice this and teach our children to practice this we can create a better world and a safer world.

Please share what you think we can do.

What are your school and district policies on cyberbullying? Are they effective?

Meaghan