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Cyber-Bullying Op-Ed

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Emily Leibert October 16, 2014 Why Parents Might be the Biggest Instigators in an Ongoing Bullying Nightmare

The Sex Talk is awkward. It is that uncomfortable, uncomfortable, first recognition of the birds and the  bees, but every parent knows it needs to be conducted. No matter how miserably we  blunder through it and force our teenagers to turn shades of red that don’t even exist on the color spectrum, we go through through with it. Sex is normal behavior, and having the Sex Talk is a part of growing up. But it is not  the  the only talk we parents should be having with our kids. Last month, a high school junior named Elsa Tanner made statewide news. She was the type of scholar and daughter any parent would be proud to call their own. She consistently made honor roll, she was the president p resident of Poinsettia High School’s National Charity League, and she spent her free time directing quirky music videos with he r closeknit group of friends. She was adored by those who befriended her and respected by those who knew her. Sadly, none of these are the reasons Elsa made the news. On September 18, Elsa committed suicide because a classmate had been anonymously  bullying her over the Internet for two years. She was 16 years old. While parents across California continue to squirm begrudgingly over the Sex Talk, and while seductive images of hypersexual vixens are splashed across Teen Vogue covers, everyone is missing the bigger bigger issue at hand. Sex might ruin pre-teens’ wholesome values or deny them of their glorious innocence, but cyber-bullying kills. And for that, there is no redemption. We are having the wrong conversation. How could fellow parents and administrators administrators have let this happen? We have somehow droned out an issue that is horrifyingly prominent and continues to gain traction. The evidence for a recent rise in in cyber-bullying is alarming. In a 2011 national survey, a whopping 85% of middle-school aged children (11-14) remarked that they didn’t know  people could bully them on the Internet. By 2013, that number had reduced to 55%, meaning cyber-bullying awareness has increased among this age group. At this point, you might reassure yourself, “Well, just because my kid knows about cyber-bullying doesn’t mean she’s the victim of it.” Think again. Authors of a special report just distributed (January 2014) to school administrators in 166 school districts throughout the state found these alarming statistics: !

The California Association of Police Officers believes one in four kids have  been bullied by another kid.

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! !

Cyber bullying now eclipses physical or ve rbal bullying in most California school districts. School counselors reported that roughly 60% of their student sessions now include bullying issues.

Let me reiterate: one in four . Out of a classroom of 20 students, five of them are most likely being harassed online. So, you think your big-boned, track star son is immune to this? Cyber-bullying does not require physical aggression; it is purely emotional, and hiding behind a computer screen allows these new-age bullies to attack without fear of retaliation. What about the popular girl with the glossed, pouty lips and piercing, blue eyes? She may be intimidating, but flooding her inbox with copies of a nude picture she once sent out might just do the trick. And how about the Homecoming King? Creating a viral uprising by spreading a video of him chugging alcohol illegally may very well dethrone him. When it comes to our children, ignorance is never  bliss, and we do not have the liberty to assume any teen is safe. In another 2013 study, 98% of middle and high school teachers said they know at least one student who has been cyber bullied in the past two years. What does this tell us? The majority of teachers know what’s going on. But by the time a case of cyber-bullying has escalated enough for a teacher to notice, the damage has already been done. This made me think. Maybe it’s not about being reactive but about being proactive. And maybe, just maybe, the problem starts with us: the parents. A leading parent magazine conducted a two-year ongoing email poll in which the majority of parents “don’t think that their teens have been bullied.” However, only 21% report that they have actually asked their children if they have ever been bullied. We are not even talking  to our kids! This is the conversation we need to be having. This is why so many parents have no idea their children are being bullied until it is too late. This is why Elsa Tanner found herself with no other option. How do we tackle such a sensitive topic, then? Let the facts do the talking. A 2013 study by the American Academy of Pediatricians says that kids appreciate straight talk about such issues as violence, depression and personal safety but they only want general information in a group setting such as an assembly. The same study shows that parents are uncomfortable talking about bullying even though they know it is important. If you cannot muster up the courage to talk about cyber-bullying with your child—and you don’t have to—I would hope you can discuss the matter like an adult with educators and administrators who understand the gravity of the situation. And please, do not indulge in the horrible irony of forcing your teen to look up advice on the Internet, the very same place making cyber-bullying a reality. Children between the

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computers not related to their schoolwork. If we cannot stop cyber-bullying in its tracks, we can at least impose parental control on our children’s fifty technological devices. Not even adults need to be on laptops or phones six hours a day. Or if enforcing rules isn’t quite your style for whatever reason, take the kids outside. Go on family adventures. Urge the adolescents to put their phones down and look up every once in a while—  anything to keep their noses out of the viral nonsense that permeates digital platforms. Admittedly, it is never that simple. Last year’s stunt by Tori Locklear, the middle schooler who burnt off her own hair in a YouTube video that went viral, is thwarting  parents’ efforts to discourage random Tweets and FB postings. Her appearances on “ellen” and “The Today Show” made it seem cool to post stuff about yourself and to be  joked about. Kids no longer seek admirable reputations. They intentionally subject themselves to ridicule in the hopes of becoming a viral sensation of YouTube celebrity. There is nothing  cool about incentivizing peer ridicule, and we need to instill these values now. The haunting statistics prove it. The heart-wrenching stories reinforce it. Our children live it. Cyber-bullying is a very real threat to our children’s wellbeing. Parents, let’s do our jobs and stop it.

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