Thursday, August 26, 2004

Cyberbullies

The tech section of the NYT today has an article on how technology is being utilized by adolescent bullies to reach out and futher the damage done to other kids, attacking them in their own homes and outside of just the school, in many ways making matters far worse.
The technology, which allows its users to inflict pain without being forced to see its effect, also seems to incite a deeper level of meanness. Psychologists say the distance between bully and victim on the Internet is leading to an unprecedented - and often unintentional - degree of brutality, especially when combined with a typical adolescent's lack of impulse control and underdeveloped empathy skills.
The subject of bullying is one that is close to my own heart, something on which I feel passionately (more so than on almost any other issue) and one that I think still gets too little attention in America (though that has improved in recent years). Indeed, there are few issues that I believe are more important to education policy in this country than stamping out bullying in all its varying forms.

I was a victim of school bullying. Now, my situation occurred earlier than for some (late grade school and early middle school), however, it had no less of an impact upon my life. For several years, I was a social pariah at my school, known only through a vulgar nickname, picked on, physically assaulted by other kids, had my property taken away and/or damaged, deliberately not picked for a team when playing at recess, and generally the most miserable person at McCarter Elementary and French Middle schools in Topeka, KS. All of this was going on at the same time as my parents were getting their divorce, which didn't help me any. And nobody did anything to stop it. Not really. JL, my sixth grade teacher, addressed my class one day (while I was out of the room, crying in the library) with our school principal and ordered a stop, but that was in April of 1986 - the bullying had been going on for over a year by then and it did not stop when I went to middle school the next fall. It only stopped when people grew tired of it, around the time of my eighth grade year, though there were still vestiges of it that I dealt with throughout high school and later.

The experience has left a scar on my soul that has taken a long time to heal (and it might never fully do so - I still deal with repercussions). The name I was called, a vulgar word which I will not repeat here, is still an uncomfortable one. I cringe whenever I hear it aloud and refuse to speak it myself. Major damage was done to my self-esteem that has taken a long, long time to repair. It took me a long time before I could trust people not to use my thoughts and words against me, to lower my defenses enough to allow other people in. Oh, I'm much better now...but 18 years later...there is still a dull ache of pain from what happened to me.

Its for that reason that I've donated so much money to anti-bullying causes, and why I singled out this article this morning. I couldn't imagine how bad my own experience might have become if I was in school today instead of back in the mid-80s. Why its so important that anyone with kids talk to them about bullying. Not only do we need to help victims and fight bullies in our schools, but its important to attack the bystanders who allow such things to happen. There is nothing (nothing) constructive about bullying. It is not "kids being kids" or anything even remotely like that. It is cruelty, plain and simple.

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