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October Is Anti-Bullying Awareness Month

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Guest blogger Lori Getz: I sat down with an old friend this week who happens to work in law enforcement, focusing on Internet crimes and crimes against children. I wanted to discuss current trends regarding predators and bullies, and I asked Agent X two simple questions: "How many kids are affected by predators and bullies? What do the most current statistics look like?"

Anti Bullying Month
He looked at me as if I'd just asked him the dumbest question ever, and replied, "Lori, the stats don't matter! They definitely don't paint an accurate picture. The truth is, it's not a question of if a child will be approached by a predator or bullied online. The question is, when it happens, what will they do?" 

He's absolutely right! I queried a group of a hundred seventh graders this week; 100 percent reported being approached by a stranger online, and more than 80 percent reported being part of a cyberbullying incident.

Now, this is not meant to SCARE anyone. Your child is not in danger because he or she has a presence online. But they could be in danger if they don't know how to handle a situation involving predators and bullies. And they just won't know what to do without guidance from you. 

Can you imagine never teaching your children to say "please" and "thank you"? What if we never talked to our children about stranger awareness? Manners and personal safety are not innate knowledge; they need to be taught and learned. With all of the attention being paid to cyberbullying, it's time parents started paying more attention to manners online.

Etiquette expert Lisa Gache, of Beverly Hills Manners, says manners begin with the three Rs: raising awareness, role-modeling and repetition. "The first step is raising awareness on this issue, on the value and importance of treating one another with simple respect and common decency," she says. "Secondly, children need to have solid role models to look up to and revere. Finally, repetition is key. It is one thing to educate someone with these wonderful life tools, but quite another to actually practice them on a daily basis." 

This simple mantra applies to both online and offline manners, but it's essential that parents explain to their kids the reasons why cyberbullying has such severe consequences for victims. The victim has no safe place. The effect of cyberbullying is viral. Everyone online is privy to a child's humiliation. 

In talking with the seventh graders this week, I realized how easy it was for them to lose sight of these manners. A parent told me this story: Her 12-year-old daughter and her friends were on Buzz, and one person said that they had run into a boy they knew from a previous school. The person said, "Just saw X ... he's so weird!" Within minutes, there was a flurry of activity from others agreeing with this young man. The woman's daughter was about to post when her mom caught wind of what was going on. She asked her daughter why she would say something like that, but her daughter had no answer -- she hadn't thought about anyone's feelings being hurt; she'd just wanted to join in on the conversation. She also admitted that she really didn't even know the boy. She had only met him once. 

This is tame cyberbullying, but it addresses my point. I'm grateful to that parent for stopping her daughter and getting her to think about her words. When I talk to the kids, I ask them, "How much pain are you willing to inflict on another person? So much that you would take responsibility if your words caused them to hurt themselves?" The room is usually quiet at that point; they know the right answer, but until we ingrain within them this idea that their words really matter, we will continue to see headlines of young people taking their own lives due to cyberbullying, and depression will continue to rise among teens. 

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month. Even Perez Hilton (a well-known cyberbully) has recognized the detrimental effects of this behavior and has pledged to change his ways and bring awareness to youth. It's time we as parents do the same.

Find a moment to sit down with your kids and talk to them about friendship and what it means to be a good person. Talk to them about your values and make this month the month we say "Manners matter"!

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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Ally Moore  October 21, 2010, 2:14 PM

Cyberbullying has become so prevalent in society these days. One of my greatest fears as a mother is that my daughter, who is 6 now, will want her own computer or cell phone. It is so important for parents to stay abreast with new media and be involved in the lives of their children. I read a post just this morning that talks about how internet safety begins in the home. I’ll post a link. Great job though. I hope the awareness of this issue spreads.

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