October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. There is a sea of pink wherever we look representing the fight against this terrible disease that has affected many people and their families and has taken the lives of even more. We hope that someday there will be a cure for breast cancer and other forms of that ugly "C" word. Until then, we continue to be vigilant, supportive and promote education to our communities on preventative health and wellness.
October is also Bullying Prevention and Awareness Month. We don't have scientists researching for a cure, and we aren't raising millions of dollars for prevention. Nevertheless, bullying is an insidious problem in our society that continues to escalate as our social reach grows. Prevention and education is the only way to slow this trend.
Bullying has been around for generations, but the bully's reach was once limited to the playground, school bus or lunchroom. Maybe you were the kid in the schoolyard who was pushed around or teased. The adults in your life probably told you to just toughen up. At least you had a reprieve; the bully wasn't in your home, too.
With social media, that has changed. Bullies can reach their targets wherever they are, making cyberbullying a serious, sometimes life-threatening, issue in today's tech-savvy society. Cyberbullying can bring kids, teens, and even grownups to their emotional breaking points. When you hear the names Amanda Todd, Tyler Clemente, Rebecca Sedwick, and Hannah Smith, you immediately envision sadness and face the realization that we are living in a society that allows a person with a keypad to use it as a lethal weapon--legally.
Most people understand that when a person commits suicide there are underlying causes. However, online abuse exacerbates the problem, especially if that person is struggling with self-esteem issues and someone tells them to "Drink bleach and die."
Cyberbullying and digital shaming never rest.
The Internet doesn't take time off for holidays, vacations or summer breaks. In a PEW Study on Teens, Social Media and Technology in 2015, ninety-two percent of teens go online daily, with twenty-four percent saying that they are online constantly. They are spending more of their time in cyberspace than they are in the real world.
The gravity of the situation is made more obvious by a recent survey from Vodefone, which revealed that forty-three percent of teens believed cyberbullying was a bigger problem than drug abuse. The survey also revealed:
• Forty-one percent of teens said cyberbullying made them feel sad, helpless and depressed.
• Twenty-six percent said they felt completely alone.
• Eighteen percent said they felt suicidal.
• Twenty-one percent stay home from school due to cyberbullying
• Thirty-eight percent don't tell their parents they are being harassed online.
The fact that many children do not tell their parents or an adult about the cyberbullying is an issue that continues to concern experts and advocates. Telling a parent is not only about reporting the bully so that steps can be taken, but it also helps preserve the child's emotional health. The reason kids don't tell their parents about cyberbullying may range from fear of having their lifeline removed (being shut off from the Internet) and being ashamed of what is happening to retaliation from the bully or teasing by other kids. This is why offline parenting is so crucial to a child's online life. Only parents can turn this statistic around.
Being humiliated to death is a reality when it comes to digital public shaming.
I have now compared cyberbullying to cancer and drug abuse; last week on The View we heard Candace Cameron Bure refer to Internet trolling and this type of behavior as rape. I am not diminishing someone who has cancer or who has been raped--what I am saying is that virtual emotional and mental abuse can be just as detrimental to a person as any disease or attack. Keep in mind, people who have been cyber-attacked don't RSVP to a party. Like cancer, it arrives unexpectedly. Like rape, it can be emotionally violent and destructive and affect you for years.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of cyber-bullets, I have spent a decade, not only digitally recovering from the attacks, but also emotionally. We have seen digital warfare drive youth to death--literally. We have witnessed teens surrender college scholarships and adults lose jobs because of posts and images that appear on their virtual landscape.
Understand that cyberbullying is not a fad; it's a trend. I'm confident that many parents and especially grandparents remember when polio was a disease that seemed as if it would be a never-ending threat. With organizations like Rotary International, polio is about to be eradicated. We hope to be able to say that about cancer someday. But when it comes to issues where people inflict pain on others, like rape and cyberbullying, I'm a realist. As long as there are humans on this planet, we will likely be dealing with ugly behavior.
Cyberbullying is not going to be cured someday. As long as we have the ability to digitally connect with other people in this world, cyber attacks will continue. We can, however, lessen their reach by taking steps in our own lives and in the lives of children to promote digital safety. You have the power to change, and you can also encourage others to follow your lead. Remember, technology is not the problem. The problem is the people who are using it.
• Become a cyber-mentor to a friend, sibling or someone who needs you.
• Encourage your child to share what's going on in their online world with you.
• If you don't like what others have to say, click away (unless you have constructive criticism).
• Empathy is the path to combating cruelty. Use your keystrokes for kindness.