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Send the Bullies Back to School

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"Labor Day is a glorious holiday because your child will be going back to school the next day. It would have been called Independence Day, but that name was already taken." --Bill Dodds

Back to school is about more than school supplies and new clothes. For my kids going back to school presents a range of emotions: excitement at the prospect of renewing friendships and engaging in extracurricular activities where they might find new success, and of course anxiety around the unknown in terms of their studies.

The minute my kids step on school grounds, they are in another world where they must face their fears and challenges without me or their mother there to assist and protect them.

It begs the question: What do our kids face in going back to school, beyond the books? The answer is what you already know, what you probably experienced as a kid, in fact -- some of the same peer pressures you faced on a daily basis. Some of us were bullied, while others were pressured to experiment with sex and drugs. None of us, however, lived our lives in the public view like the kids of today.

I grew up in Orange County, in the suburbs, and graduated from high school with the class of 1993, pre-Internet. The most intense bullying my friends and I ever faced in high school was from the seniors on the first day of school. It was an old tradition for the seniors to round up the freshmen and torment them in public. Even though this was viewed as hazing, there was an element of fun and silliness to it. No one really got hurt.

Today, our kids face a new form of bullying through the use of social media. Simply search "Facebook bullying" on Google and the horrors of what is happening in cyberspace to kids around the world is instantly revealed. I can't imagine having to compete for status on Facebook and Twitter while also dealing with the turbulence of adolescence.

Kids, especially teenagers, today live under a virtual microscope where image is more important than substance. They are concerned with building an online image of themselves that doesn't always reflect reality in regard to how they dress, what images they post, and the content of their status updates. It makes them easy prey for cyber bullies.

Cyber bullies underestimate the power and (now) illegality of their words, especially those uttered or written in a public forum. Teens today don't really know or understand a world without social media, so for them there's no separation between the virtual world and the "real" world.

Whatever happens at or after school now gets posted on Facebook. That's a lot of power to give someone under the age of 18. Without parents monitoring their usage carefully, those teens who haven't matured enough to learn the importance of respect, or at least a filter, will abuse that power with ill-advised and hurtful words.

Talk to your kids about what being back in school means for them (or check their Facebook status more often). Are they anxious or excited? Are they facing peer pressures that can be detrimental to their development or well-being? Are they being bullied or cyber bullied? Or are you overreacting?