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A Parent’s Message

I am a coach, a neighbor, a spouse, an activist, and most important, a parent. And recently all of these roles came together in a perfect storm called cyberbullying. My son is a middle school student who became aware that some classmates were “going to get him” on his personal page on a popular on-line social networking site. He was confused because he didn’t have such a page (let alone free access to the Internet) and chose to ignore the threat.

Months later, at a parent/teacher conference, we were informed our son had sent a harassing e-mail from his page on this social networking site to the page of a young faculty member. We read the e-mail and were alarmed by the homophobic content and tone and agreed to investigate the situation and confer with the teachers the following week. Something was up!

What we learned over the next 48 hours of research into the matter was a painful lesson in the ways contemporary teens communicate with one another and how they bully and harass one another in the perceived anonymity of the Internet. These boys had created a fake e-mail address for our son on a free e-mail provider and then created an imposter account and public page for our son on the social networking site. The imposter page contained our son’s personal information (address, school, full name, age) including his photograph which was copied from the middle school year book using a cell phone.

The content of the site was quite racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and harassing, and the dialog posted to the site from “friends” was as well. We discovered over 200 classmates and peers with their own social networking pages who are under the minimum age requirement of the site. The content of their pages was equally negative, and we have discovered and seen that this type of content and conversation is a nationwide phenomenon. Our research also helped us to locate multiple postings on other web sites of hate lists and postings of threats of physical attacks against faculty members in our middle school and others.

We became very well informed and active in the systems (school, school district, police department, district attorney) in order to bring resolution to the matter and to protect our son and other victims of this senseless, reckless behavior. The result has been mixed—anti-bullying and harassment laws do not protect victims of cyberbullying, identity theft laws do not protect victims of cyberbullying, and because most of this behavior takes place after school hours and off campus, these kids are potentially protected by free speech laws. We are staying focused and diligent in our attempt to change public policy about cyberbullying.

The kids who are bullying and their victims, the parents of the bullies and the parents of the bullied each hold a very different, and often conflicting, perspective in this dangerous matter. We have seen immaturity, denial, indifference, as well as fear, frustration, inaction, and rage. The universal truth in our experience and those of the people we have met along the way is that cyberbullying is epidemic across the country and the majority of parents are clueless about the issue, let alone how to intervene.

We all need to know:

  • Cyberbullying is a clear form of harassment and can be punishable in a criminal or civil setting.
  • Cyberbullying hurts in the short and long term emotional and social development of young people.
  • Cyberbullying leads to hostile school environments.
  • The on-line trail of a cyberbully cannot ever be deleted and can be used against the bully in the future by colleges or employers.
  • Kids continue to escalate the cyberbullying epidemic because they believe all adults are clueless and they can get away with it!
  • Only parental involvement with kids on line will help to end this epidemic.

We have made it our personal cause to help in this regard! Through coaching, sharing parent-to-parent, and strategic activism, I will work to shine a light on this crisis within our school, or neighborhoods, and in homes across the country.

Won’t you join me?

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