Guest blogger Lori Getz: In the world of Big Brother, is anyone safe? And who do we need to be safe from -- the technology, or the users behind it?
Here's a recap of the horrible story: It all began when Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, remotely activated a webcam in their dorm room in order to capture Clementi's sexual encounters with another man. Ravi then posted comments on Twitter, thereby "outing" his roommate. Clementi subsequently uploaded the Facebook status, "jumping off the gw bridge sorry" -- right before ending his own life.
Webcams, Twitter and Facebook all played a role in this young man's tragic death, but they are NOT the cause of his suicide. It would be so easy to blame the technology here, because it seems to be the simplest answer. But Clementi was bullied by another human being -- two, in fact. (Ravi and a young woman named Molly Wei have both been charged with "invasion of privacy" by the district attorney prosecuting the case). These two young people may not have been able to foresee that Tyler would take his own life, but they HAD to know that what they were doing was hurtful and wrong!
Tyler Clementi was already vulnerable. Forty percent of all college suicides are freshman, and gay teens are four times more likely to take their own lives. Many of our children are vulnerable, too: It's hard being a teenager, finding your way with friends, gaining independence and finding out just who you really are or want to be.
Cyberbullying continues to plague our nation, and according to the students I work with, the reasons are simple.
1) Anyone can be a bully online -- and anyone can be a victim.
2) The fact that the bullies don't have to see the other person's face as they cause extreme pain makes it easier for them to remove themselves from their egregious actions.
3) The bullies don't think they will get caught, meaning that they know nobody is paying attention to their online actions.
The psychological ramifications of cyberbullying are far more severe than those of schoolyard bullying, as it has been linked to the rise in depression amongst teens. Yet our children continue to both be bullies and get bullied online.
As parents, we MUST get involved! In the same way that we remind our children about their everyday manners -- such as saying "please" and "thank you" and respecting others -- we NEED to remind them about their online manners, too. We can't just talk about cyberbullying one time and think it's going to stick; we have to remind them over and over again! (Can you imagine if you only had to remind your children one time to say "please" and "thank you"?)
If your child is being cyberbullied, make sure they know that they can talk to you about it. Not only do we need to teach children to be respectful of others, but we need to teach them what to do if they are being cyberbullied. Namely:
1) STOP. Go neutral -- do not respond to the bully and do not give them any type of reaction. "STOP" also means teaching our kids to stop caring about what the bully says. It's hard, I know, but they may need to "fake it 'til they feel it." If we can teach our children that the words of another person who is trying to hurt them are irrelevant, it will help them rebuild their self-esteem. You can't fix a bully, make a bully like you or even ignore them; all of those things give the bully power, because you are still reacting -- and therefore giving the bully control over you.
2) BLOCK. There is no reason your child needs to see the terrible things someone else is saying about them. It just fuels the hurt. You can block users from e-mail, IM, Facebook and even text messages (you will have to call your cell phone provider for that last one). If your child is being bullied via multiple anonymous accounts, then it's time for your child to shut down their account and start over again with a smaller group of friends they know they can trust.
3) REPORT. Your child should tell you! Don't overreact. Remember, the most important thing is rebuilding their self-esteem and helping them find a safe group of friends they can rely on. If you get worked up and pledge justice for your child, you may be setting them up for greater hurt. You should report the cyberbullying to social networks such as Facebook (if it occurs there) and the police (if you feel your child is in harm's way or has been physically threatened). But I can't guarantee resolution for your child. Too often, parents focus on trying to "get" the bully, but because the law has not caught up with technology, there is not always something that can be done.
Don't get me wrong: As a former victim myself, I think all bullies should get what's coming to them. But life isn't always fair. So do what you know you can, and focus on making your children feel good enough about themselves that the words of a bully no longer have meaning.