In the vastness of cyberspace, like in the ocean, there are bottom feeders. Unencumbered by ethics or morality, they’re free to prey on the young, eager to exploit their immaturity and unconcerned with the consequences.
A current example is a gossip Web site that has lured plenty of teens — and problems — at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. It invites people to anonymously post gossip about anyone, true or not, no matter how hurtful, and to identify the victim. A letter to parents on the Marysville School District’s Web site described postings, called “g-strings,” as “mean, vicious and hurtful.” Two students on the receiving end of such entries are said to be afraid to come to school.
Cyberbullying is a real and growing problem. Like schoolyard bullying, it’s often aimed at kids who are considered different or particularly sensitive. The Legislature last year passed a bill requiring school districts to include it in their harassment prevention policies, but given the anonymous nature of such bullying, and the fact that most of it takes place off school grounds, schools have few practical enforcement tools.
This recent example presents a teachable moment, however, that educators, students leaders and parents should seize. For many families, it’s a two-way opportunity. Parents may have as much to learn about the various ways their children are communicating these days as they can teach about doing so responsibly.
A gossip site is just one of many places cyberbullying occurs. Personal Web sites, blogs, e-mail, instant messaging, chat rooms, message boards, text, voice and photo messaging via cell phones — today’s kids use many or all of them, and they all have the potential to hurt.
Teaching young people to use these tools responsibly is part of responsible parenting, and boils down to reinforcing the golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated. It also means paying attention to how your child is using cyberspace, bearing in mind that they could be on the giving or receiving end of inappropriate behavior.
Modern communication technology has spawned exciting new possibilities. Its dangers, though, require something as old as civilization itself: good, attentive parenting.
To learn more, visit www.cyberbully.org.