To begin with, I do not want to be interpreted as not having sympathy for victims of bad behavior. In fact, the whole reason behind my other blog (www.grownuptech.com) is to empower people to make use of technology to increase their prosperity. But the bold reality is that cyberbullies are bullies regardless of access to technology. Technology just makes it easier to torment people, and opens up the floodgates of available victims.
Technology is never the cause of problems between people. Technology is, for good or bad, for better or worse, a facilitator. Technology can assist in fanning an old flame on Facebook; in fact, Facebook is being blamed for an increasing number of divorces. A strong marriage in the first place is not vulnerable to such, and a partner who could be swayed on Facebook could be swayed anywhere else as well. Technology is being blamed for the rise in pornography addiction. Although it wasn’t as widely known, due to the lack of resources to tell us about it, pornography was available before computers were putting it on the web. And before printed pornography, there were “peep shows” and stalkers. Technology is being blamed for cyberbullying. Saying mean things is nothing new. If you didn’t receive the barbs, you saw it happening to others.
The problem isn’t the technology, and removing the technology from the picture isn’t going to solve it. The problem is lack of respect for people and relationships. And the reason it is spreading isn’t because of the availability of technology. It’s because the lack of respect for people and relationships is spreading.
One thing that is different is that our children have unprecedented unsupervised access to unlimited numbers of people that they may or may not know. You may think that you have your child’s internet access closely supervised, but unless you spend all your time in that child’s presence, you don’t have that access completely controlled. Your child has friends who have that unlimited access, and once they hand over a smartphone to your child to watch a humorous video, the world is at your child’s fingertips.
Having the ability and opportunity to see the world from many different viewpoints is excellent, and I encourage you to share those opportunities with your children. Let them see the different lives that make up the world, and how those different lives affect what the people living them think and feel and do. Ask them questions that start out, “If that was you, what would you do?” But make sure that you are involved in that exploration. This is appropriate use of this wonderful resource.
Bullying is bullying, regardless of where and how it happens. What is less well-known, however, is that every bully has been bullied. A bully is seeking to exercise worth or superiority, or to manifest strength and power, when the bully is feeling none of those things. At the heart of every bully is a cowering, trembling little child desperately trying to be someone not cowering and not trembling, and the only way they know to make that happen is to do to someone else what they perceive is being done to them. Bullying is learned behavior. That in no way excuses the bully, because it is still a choice. But as a parent, as a sibling, as a classmate, as a spouse, as a friend, you have opportunities every day to not contribute to the creation of a bully simply by not being one. By extending respect to everyone you encounter, and by demonstrating to your children that this is the only acceptable way of interacting with people, you can prevent the creation of bullies.
When you or someone you know is on the receiving end of bullying, only two courses of action will stop the misbehavior: walk away, and have nothing to do with the bully; or stand up to the bully. Standing up doesn’t have to mean retaliating, it just means not allowing the bully to determine what you do and how you feel. The primary factor in that is not being formed externally. When you, or your children, know that you are a being of worth regardless of other people, when that is an inherent part of a person’s being, a bully has no effect. Since what the bully is seeking is validation and power, not granting that negates the process without causing collateral damage. Online, that can mean unfriending/blocking a bully, and I don’t understand why more people don’t take that action. I also don’t understand why more parents don’t know that it’s going on in their children’s lives, and I don’t understand why, when the parents DO know about it, they don’t insist on simply severing the connection.
This isn’t rocket science. Respect people. And don’t allow people to have extended influence in your life if they can’t treat you with respect. It really is that simple.