Let’s Talk About Cyberbullying

Think about things that feed our conversational life. We converse at work, we converse on the phone, we have discussions online, or around the dinner table, we talk with our friends, there are all sorts of situations in which we have discussions.

Barring the personal conversations we have (what’s going on in our households, our families, our relationships, with our kids), what do people talk about when they aren’t getting personal?

At school, kids are talking about the latest video games, the latest music, school, teachers, hockey pools, the latest scores.

At work, people are catching up on the latest headlines, probably sports scores, the weekend events, entertainment news, and work-related issues. Depending on the type of work environment, they may engage in personal chatter as well.

Online, one can find a myriad of different debates, discussions and revelations occurring. Twitter, a popular social media platform in which “tweets” are comprised of no more than 140 characters, people chatter about the things that originally brought them together. Many twitter connections are made based on mutual interests, so a person’s “timeline” (the newsfeed on Twitter) may be made up of those who enjoy discussing hockey, those who enjoy books, fans of various entertainers (often times the entertainer him/herself), to name a few.

On Facebook, where chats take place based on shared links, videos, photos, or mere status updates, discussions are specified to that which is shared. Politics, entertainment, humor, news, sports, games played via the Facebook platform, technology, to name a few of the threads that can be found on the average person’s Facebook “wall”.

Any of the above topics can be found on any given day. But when do we talk about cyberbullying?

The world is talking about cyberbullying this month because of the tragic loss of Amanda Todd. As in past years, cyberbullying has been raised as a topic when it hits the headlines. It isn’t a current event, not the same way the economy, the environment, the latest sports or entertainment news, politics or weather are discussed on a daily basis. It isn’t even as widely discussed as traditional bullying, though it has the same hallmarks of behavior and can result in the same outcomes.

Think of a day in which you have not talked with someone about the weather. Now think of the last time you discussed cyberbullying as a serious topic. Unless you work in the field, or research the behavior, you have probably only talked about cyberbullying when it is a headline. Even victims of cyberbullying don’t discuss it; this contributes to the problem.

Bullying and cyberbullying are serious behavioral issues that have been referred to, by researchers, as a “national public health crisis”. And yet, when there is a physical public health crisis (think H1N1 or the e. coli scare), people talk about it until it is resolved, until there is a vaccine developed and administered, or until the crisis has passed.

There is no vaccine for cyberbullying. There is no magical preventative one-step measure that will protect our kids from its pervasive nature. There is reactive – dealing with the aftermath of cyberbullying, sometimes being a funeral to attend – and there is proactive. In being proactive, the first step is to infuse it into our dialogue, make it a part of our lives whether we are experiencing it or not. There is no doubt that everyone is a stakeholder in seeing cyberbullying become a recognized behavioral problem and everyone must take responsibility in seeing it prevented. It is highly preventable, with education and action, and yet we’re not even talking about it.

How do we do this? How do we bring it to the attention of those who need to hear it? We talk. We attend workshops. We bring it to the attention of our schools; teachers, principals, guidance counselors, even administrative staff members must be made aware of what the behavior “looks like”, and how to cope with its aftermath. One cannot predict who will become a cyberbully, but in talking with students, in making sure they are aware that the behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, we can begin the practice of proactive measures. We can reach the students who may just be on the edge of cyberbullying another, and we can make those students self-aware so that the action never comes to fruition.

In talking about cyberbullying on a regular basis, we can encourage those who are being victimized to report what is happening to them. They are probably experiencing fear, loathing, low self-esteem and perhaps entertaining ideas of suicide. We can empower those students who need that extra push to action. We can let them know that they have the right to NOT be bullied, we can teach them to embrace their self-worth and we can let them know they are important. We can save lives. Just by talking.

In talking about cyberbullying around the water cooler, we can educate those who are totally unaware of the behavior, we can open their eyes to the fact that not only does it exist and not only is it vital to prevent, but that it may be happening in their home without their even being able to recognize it. We may just raise someone’s curiosity to find out what is happening in their children’s digital lives – and that may well save lives too.

In talking about cyberbullying in media – whether it is social media or news media – we continue to attribute to it the significance it deserves. We can educate in casual ways, pique interest in those who had none, encourage interest in those who wish to find out more, and honor those who have fallen to cyberbullycide by ensuring that they did not die in vain.

Tributes to public figures happen all the time. National holidays are held in honor of the most important in our world who have touched our lives. But what tributes do victims of bullycide and cyberbullycide receive? Some discussion in the wakes of their deaths, perhaps some laws beginning to take shape, news stories covering their families, the aftermath, and maybe funerals. But then, we hear nothing more. We must start to honor the fallen victims by stopping the actions that caused their spirals downward in the first place and empower the silent victims who can be lifted up to overcome and rise above.

So let’s start now.

Let’s talk about cyberbullying.

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