The Internet is still relatively a new phenomenon. It connects us to a new realm online where we are capable of finding information in a matter of a few clicks. In the solitude of our home or on the go, information on almost any subject is abundant. I'm sure most tweens and teenagers can relate when I say that we are glued to our electronics, and some might even experience withdrawal without their cell phones for a few hours.
However, social media is an even newer advent. While we laud the Internet for its speed and its convenience, the darker side is often neglected or rarely discussed. The topic of cyberbullying is the elephant in the room.
The archaic ways of bullying used to be where you would face your bully one-on-one. While it still happens, they are slowly dissipating, and rolling in comes the mean and nasty anonymous comment that is public on the Internet.
It doesn't stop at the schoolyard or even a child's front door. Access to the Internet and social media websites mean kids can be bullied and tormented around the clock, even in the supposed safety of their own homes. The cruelty that can come with the strike of a button on a keyboard can hurt just as much as any punch or push in a playground.
Many victims are cloistered by insecurities and other introverted thoughts. The rash of suicides as a result of cyberbullying these past few years has gained international attention in the media. It has also struck a chord to many friends and families and the topic is very near to my heart.
In recent news, two Florida teenagers were both accused of aggravated stalking of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 7th-grader who killed herself back in September. One of the teenagers accused of cyberbullying made an unremorseful Facebook "confession" post that led to their arrest.
In 2013, many social-networking sites and apps are offering a range of dangerous features. One such example is Ask.Fm, a social-networking site that allows users to ask other users questions, with the option of anonymity. Ask.Fm has been in international news for a string of suicides among teenagers using the site. The "activity wall" of users like that of Rebecca's depicts the perverse questions and comments she responded to before her tragic suicide.
The story that hits closest to home is Phoebe Prince's suicide after months of being hounded on Facebook and from text messages. It plagued the entire school and the staffs, but also propelled legislative action known as "Phoebe's Law," essentially creating a zero tolerance of bullying across the state of Massachusetts. It was the quintessence of how schools should approach bullying in and outside of school. These laws across the country essentially created a constellation of charges for bullying. As of this writing, Montana is the only state that has failed to enact any form of laws regarding anti-bullying laws.
You might notice a similar trend in all these cases. Where were the parents, and did they know this was happening? In many cases, parents do not know that their child is being bullied. This stems from when we were young kids -- I think it is a fair assumption that we don't always tell our parents everything. Even if we did, they would make calls to the principal, which might only lead to more trouble down the road.
If we are not comfortable telling our parents, it is best to tell another relative, a neighbor or a family friend. It is worth pointing out that the parents are more understanding than teenagers might think. Others who can help might be a trusted teacher, the school resource officer, or the guidance counselor at school. In retrospect, the guidance counselors at my school were always there, providing solace during my struggle with a bully I encountered in middle school. My friends were supportive during the ordeal and listened to all my woes. HuffPost blogger Sue Scheff wrote an article on creating "cyber-shields" where positive reinforcements are extremely helpful.
There are many support websites that gives free and anonymous advice to help victims of bullying:
We can take proactive measures to curb cyberbullying that are easy and simple:
• On Ask.Fm or any questionnaire sites, disable the anonymous questions so you know who you are talking to.
• Keep private information offline or make the account private.
• Report abusive users and contact website staff.
• Talking to a parent, teacher, or anyone you trust.
• If you see someone bullying someone you know, tell someone about it.
As digital citizens of the Internet, we should be able to stop cyberbullying. In the immortal words of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren:
It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Bias, bullying, and harassment currently stand between too many youth and this essential opportunity.
Follow Jonathan Ng on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheJonathanNg