Marion's Open Salon Blog

Marion Stein

Marion Stein
New York, New York
January 01
I no longer get this place. Time was, your post came up, and people had a chance to see it. Now, no one is going to unless you tell them to or something. This is depressing. I still post here from time to time, but the best place to see my stuff is over at my REAL blog, Drop by sometime. A lot to see there. Comments welcome. Come on over and say hello.

Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 4, 2010 4:58PM

Ending Cyber-Bullying Now and Forever

Rate: 13 Flag

The recent suicide of Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate used a hidden webcam to record his sexual encounter with another male student and posted it on Twitter, was hardly the first case of a teenager driven to suicide by cyber-bullies.

Cyber-bullying has been blamed for several recent deaths, but most of these incidents start off-line, in classrooms, cafeterias, or schoolyards.  Bullying is mostly a school problem, but there doesn't seem to be any widespread adoption of consistent policies that involve "best practices" for prevention in schools.  Victims still wind up feeling isolated and unable to tell anyone.  Schools are usually reactive.  Many still use a mediation model that makes bullying seem like a problem between kids and not a crime against a child.

Because of the high profile cases, more laws are being written to punish bullying especially the cyber kind. The Internet magnifies the effects of bullying and cuts off the idea of any safe haven.

But will new laws actually prevent tragedies?  We need to remember that we are for the most part talking about teenagers here -- teenaged perpetuators and teenaged victims.   Teenagers think differently than adults.  Victims don't handle stressful situation as well in part because their brains aren't fully developed and in part perhaps because they lack the life experience to do so.  Perpetrators don't take into account the consequences of their actions -- not only the impact on the victim, but the punishment for themselves.

In the Rutgers case, the roommate and his friend have already been charged with a felony -- invasion of privacy -- for recording the sexual encounter and making it public.   They may be charged with a bias crime or possibly reckless homicide.  No matter what they are charged with, it's easy to imagine their defense.  They are impressionable eighteen year olds who have seen prank shows on television.  They have no criminal histories.  They simply exercised very bad judgment and had no way of imagining that what they did would lead to a young man's death.

Unlike the case of Megan Meier, where an adult mother of another teenager, posed as an adolescent boy online in order to attract and then reject Megan, there's no smoking gun here where the perpetrators actually suggested that "the world would be a better place" without their victim in it.  They didn't physically drive him to the bridge from which he jumped.

While a jury may decide that a lengthy-prison sentence equals justice for Tyler, the truth is that preventing future tragedies will be a much bigger job.

As an educational grant-writer, I know there are requests for funding, both private and public, for after school programs that address bullying.  But even if a district or school gets an award, only a fraction of children will attend these programs.  Schools must develop proactive, comprehensive strategies beginning in the earliest grades.

Prevention programs can be adjusted for the needs of children as they grow.  Compassion is hard to teach and we can't force everyone to play nice all the time, but we can begin in the early grades to develop effective strategies to teach young people to both take responsibility for their behaviors and think about how they impact others.  Instead of a teacher reactively telling parents that their isolated child may need counseling or that their outgoing one has a tendency to tease, let's teach all kids social skills.  Kids love learning about "psychology" and how socialization works.   Learning to think critically and reflect on one's own actions is a transferable cognitive skill.  Using role-plays engages children and can enhance communication and literacy skills.  Bullying prevention programs can and should be fused into elementary and middle school curriculum.   They can be generalized, presented from books and websites with scenarios such as dealing with peer pressure to isolate or bully "the new kid."  In that way, the material is not "about" a situation that may be ongoing within that particular classroom, but can allow the teacher to address similar issues, and help all students practice social problem solving and gain a deeper understanding of the impact of their actions on others.

With a push towards service learning, older high school students can play a role by visiting elementary schools and presenting skits and workshops to educate younger children about bullying and what they can do to stop, prevent, and resolve it.   (Programs such as these exist and are being utilized not only to prevent bullying, but also to help kids learn good decision making in a variety of areas.  They involve the secondary gain engaging high school students, which prevents their dropping out.)

Once we define actual bullying as threats, intimidation -- both physical and psychological, spreading rumors, organized isolation of individuals with threats to those who befriend them, use of telephone or computers to intimidate, etc. -- then the next step is figuring out policies and punishments.   What you can't have is a mishmash where Student A is lucky enough to go to Lincoln High School where he'll find that all students are aware of the policies, know to whom to go for help, and know when they go for that help they will get it, while Student B goes to Washington High School where she finds herself in a conference with the Principal who tries to work out an "agreement" between her and her and her torturers who can't wait for the meeting to end so they can tweet to the world, and start a really ugly new rumor through an anonymous Facebook account while planning the next girl's room attack.  Kids need limits to be clear and concrete.  Potential perpetrators need to be aware of the consequences for their actions. Schools must make sure their policies are clear to all kids -- victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and bystanders -- as well as to their parents.

Another missing piece in addressing bullying involves preventing victims from reacting by self-harm or lashing out at others..  On the one hand, victims are not responsible for their abuse, and should never be made to feel like they brought it on themselves.  We'll never be able to prevent 100% of bullying anymore than we'll be able to prevent all robberies or other crime.  Therefore, in addition to policies that make it easier to report bullying before it escalates, all young people must also learn how to deal with a worst-case bullying event.  It's similar to the need to teach survival skills for escaping a molester, or practicing how to leave a burning school building.

I once took a workshop at The Albert Ellis Institute.  The Institute practices a form of cognitive therapy known as "rational-emotive" therapy.  At the workshop we were asked to imagine the following scenario:  "You have been vigorously masturbating in a room.  You have just been told that a group of people including everyone you know has been watching through a hidden camera.  You are a now about to go out to another room where all those people are waiting.  What will you say to them?"

Given that I was an adult with an MSW and some experience as a clinician, I was able to come up with my answer:  "Good evening ladies and gentleman.  First, let me start by addressing your embarrassment.  Voyeurism is a natural tendency, and I forgive those of you who chose not to look away..."

Most teenagers would not come up with that kind of reply, but allowing them to visualize the most humiliating thing and imagine coping with it, might just give them enough time after a real life crisis to not embark on a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  It might increase their awareness of how overwhelmed they would be, so that they could come up with an emergency safety plan.

While comprehensive prevention programs and legal remedies might eventually make bullying less acceptable and frequent, there will always be people whose cruelty is reckless and without bounds.  In order to prevent young victims from turning their anger on themselves or others, we must act proactively to help them develop the skills to realize that even having your sex life revealed on the Internet or being told by your cyber-boyfriend that the world would be better off without you, is survivable and not a reason to take your own life.

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This is so excellent! Your viewpoint belongs on our front cover here. Stellar work.
And I really liked where you've written: "Perpetrators don't take into account the consequences of their actions -- not only the impact on the victim, but the punishment for themselves."
Simply wonderful. Brava!
Very much Rated
In the end, absorbing bullying is just practice for the rest of life's Hitler's, Stalin's, CIA Directors etc.
I'm suspicious of any legislation written in this environment, or in the next ten years for that matter. Whose interests will it really serve? What effect will it have on intellectual property rights? On freedom of speech? Whose? I'm not convinced that it will end up having anyone's "best interests" at heart, other than the biggest media and internet companies. We saw how far away from its supporters' original purposes any legislation can get with healthcare reform. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves some more straightforward questions: Do we really need this? Are we really this gullible . . . again?

And that just might be EDUCATION. Skills acquired .
In the moment. Anything worth having, including life is worth working for. Just because breeders can plop us out doesn't mean that they don't have to raise us. Raising a child with compassion, love and fairness is hard. It is not about you. Can you really be selfless enough to raise someone else, a soul. So many can't, don't and haven't got a clue.
This belonged on the cover before. Good on staff! Nice choice!
@Bonnie -- I saw your link and agree that many schools do a terrible job on this. I've also seen schools where staff had their heart in the right place but were clueless. What is needed is consistency and look at what works. Frankly, as mentioned in your link -- lawsuits probably help. Look at the money private companies now shell out educating employees on what sexual harassment is and on zero tolerance for it. This can get better if people make it a priority.
No matter what they are charged with, it's easy to imagine their defense. They are impressionable eighteen year olds who have seen prank shows on television.

I have trouble believing an 18 year old might not know if it's okay to tape someone having sex -- unless their IQ is lower than their shoe size -- in which case, they wouldn't be attending college.

We all know a teenager's brain isn't fully developed, but that doesn't make them total morons. They still know right from wrong.
@Tomreedtoon -- Oh please! I'm not on anybody's payroll and this isn't about CYA. There are things schools can do to prevent bullying and to teach kids survival skills if they are victimized. They can do this and they should do this. They aren't doing it now. With the internet as a bullying tool, the stakes are ever higher, and not just for lawsuits but for students' lives.
Will my modest proposal ever be accepted? Doubtful. It would require training, development of materials and time. Unless Bill Gates is reading this, it won't happen. Besides, teachers are too busy preparing kids for high stakes tests to do much else.
Cyber bullying is not just something that happens to kids.

I have been in a lawsuit now since January 2007 with a cyber bully who is also a professional computer hacker who has used the law suit to team up with an ex-husband on record for domestic violence and a stalker.

Together, they contacted a cousin of mine who is trying to steal my inheritance money. I am an only child.

The hacker hacks into my computer and together they have concoccted quite a scary plot. The judge should have granted me an injunction three years ago instead of allowing all of this to drag on for sooooo long. The emotional duress it has caused is horrendous.

The libelous rumors starting with the computer hacker then spread to the cousin who used the lies to create even more false statements on me as a rationale for stealing my inheritance money.

What I'm describing here is the domino effect of cyber space postings.

It's been truly a nightmare for me. And sadly, I know I am just one of thousands of such victims.
@Ranting -- I'm not in any way excusing the perps. I agree with you. I was "imagining their defense" not arguing it. Sorry if that wasn't clear.
I think this is the best article that I've read which has come out of the tragic Clementi case. I hope your ideas can gain some traction, because this problem has already gone on too long.

I attended a few Friday night sessions at the Ellis Institute when I lived in the area. Two volunteers would have therapy sessions with Albert in front of a live audience, and then Albert would discuss what happened. I always felt a little voyeuristic, even if it was all consensual, but loved the insights I took away.
Excellent article. Thank you. I have seen and dealt with bullying among young teens when I taught, and seen its ugly effects on its victims. Highly Rated.
The good news is that approximately 35 percent of the workforce is being bullied by a boss or watching someone get bullied. The two hubots are groomed for management.

Can't wait until they're CEO's destroying millions of lives. Then everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of their endeavors. Oh my, however can people be so heartless. Because they are monsters, that's how. Then we go whining and whimpering because we loose our own little goodie bags.

Not everyone is a good person, some are just evil. Unfortunately, evil pays well there is no way to stop people like this. Investors adore this kind, look at Wall Street if you don't believe me. There will always be monsters, some just figure out how to get away with it at an early age. They should be kept in cages.
Since Facebook seems to be the biggest problem. Do we shut down Facebook, or do we have to retrain the adults in this country that bullying causes things like depression, and suicide? Do we hold the parents responsible for the actions of their children? Maybe if a few of them spent some time in jail their attitudes would change. Most parents these days though don't have an emotional connection to their children and could care less. This is obvious with the dad that comes home and hides in front of the computer or the TV. Mother's who would rather take their kids to soccer, hockey, dance, karate or anywhere else they don't have to interact with them, all under thew guise of making them proficient, good little fascists.
@Charles -- Facebook isn't the problem. In the cases of Tyler -- the video link was published on twitter. In Megan's case, I believe the woman created a false "my space" page. I hate to say it but tech doesn't bully people, people bully people. You don't have to shut down the tech. You do need to prosecute people (even young people) for criminal acts. It's illegal to tape someone having sex without his or her knowledge or consent and it's illegal to make that tape public. Wbat may need to happen is schools may need to get involved even when the bullying takes place "off campus" -- including online.
Considering that this happened in college where guys and gals fraternities set up hazing to specifically humiliate people and put them in harms way, this is maybe the least of our problems. drinking, crazy behavior, drunk driving, etc.

The entire American college experience is one graught with landmines. And we address one individual?
I meant fraught. And I am not trying to trivialize this event. Just point out that fraternities, binge drinking, wreckless driving, unprotected sex. College behavior is generally stupid and dangerous. And a tradition, no less.
I agree this is an excellent article, one of the few non-reactionary ones I've seen on bullying. I dearly wish teachers had the time and wherewithal to teach social skills to their students but this role clearly belongs to the parents. Compassion and kindness towards others are best taught and modeled from infancy, in between the shlepping to soccer games and voice lessons. I always found the car to be safest place for children to talk about anything with me or, even better, with their friends - sex, frenemies, teachers, drugs. I learned to listen carefully and then use what I heard as easily digestedl lessons in survival and traveling in someone else's shoes.

I didn't have to deal with Facebook and cyber-bullying when my kids were in school but I see how my now-grown children are handling it with their own. Computer time is strictly limited and carefully observed. Rules are clearly laid out well in advance of any opportunities to abuse them. And their children know they can come to them at any time and talk about anything, even if it puts them in a negative light; from this comes awareness of actions, consequences, and pre-emptive consideration of both.

All of this will not, however, end the torment of those perceived as weaker or threats to the bullies of the world who then go on to run Wall Street and our corporations. Only strict accountability will and, sadly, that never happens. I expect that the two despicable Rutgers students will get off on plea bargains and judicial sympathy for their naivete.