Dr. Bikkar Singh Lalli
The wave of shocking suicides by teenagers, who were allegedly being bullied and sexually harassed, have stunned many parents, schools authorities, lawmakers and communities. Lady Gaga has started pushing for legislation to outlaw bullying after a 14 year old Jamey Rodermeyer, from Buffalo New York, committed suicide on Sept. 18. He was bullied for because of his perceived sexuality. In the same week, in Mississauga, a 16 year-old boy killed his best friend and then jumped off an overpass. On Sept. 26. Jeff Klein, a New York democratic senator, introduced a new “Cyberbullying Bill” in the senate. He says that “outdated pre-digital harassment laws fail to punish bullies who use the Internet and smart phones to torment others”. Thirty three states already have laws dealing with online harassment.
What is Cyberbullying? “Cyberbullying is any harassment that occurs via the Internet. Vicious forum posts, name calling in chat rooms, posting fake profiles on web sites, and sending cruel email messages, are all ways of cyberbullying”. It is easier to bully in cyberspace than it is to bully face to face. Children these days are well versed in the use of electronic gadgets and net-communications. They use text messages and instant messages routinely. They blog; they socialize on Facebook. So, no wonder they bully each other electronically. Educators, lawmakers, parents, and police in Canada are now grappling with the way to respond to cyberbullying/sexting. So far the approach has been mainly education rather than prosecution. The province of Nova Scotia has set up a Task Force, with Professor Wayne Mackay as chair, and with members from Teachers’ union, School Boards Association and Association of School Administrators, to study the bullying problem inside and outside the schools and in the wider community. A final report is expected in December 2011.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in Canada, and the start of the school is a particularly high-risk time for vulnerable youth” (Globe and Mail-Sept.24, 2011). According to University of Toronto psychologist Darcy Santor, 91 per cent of suicides victims are suffering from some sort of mental illness possibly caused by depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, bullying, social isolation and some other factors, at the time of deaths. In a study by MTV/Associated Press, released on Sept. 27, 2011, it is revealed that more than half of the respondents have been the target of mean behaviour or fake gossip on social-networking sites or text messages.
Teens in today’s society have easy access to cell phones, with three out of every four owning them. Sending and receiving text messages via one’s cell phone has become extremely popular. It is estimated that a teen sends or receives, on average, 3000 text messages each month. In a bullying survey (Ethics of American Youth Survey-Oct.2010), half of U.S. High schoolers say they have bullied or harassed someone at least once in the past year and nearly half say they have been bullied in that time; 19 per cent of teens aged 13-19 had sent a sexually-suggestive picture or video of themselves to someone via e-mail, cell phone or through other online interaction, while 31 per cent had received a nude or semi-nude picture from someone. Built-in digital cameras in cell phones have added a new dimension to the problem. Over half (52 per cent) of teenagers, who are targets of cyberbullying, never actually report it.
A search for solutions cannot be boiled down to passing new legislation or blaming everything from school to technology. Attitudes can never be legislated. A radical shift in cultural norms needs to happen for long-term change to take hold. Children who are bullied often experience low self-esteem and depression. Bullies, who often have been bullied themselves, may pick on others to feel powerful, popular, or in control.
As a parent try your best to bully-proof your teenager. First, it is imperative that you find out if your child is going trough any problems at school or at play grounds. There are some of the indicators or signals which should help you in drawing some conclusions. Is your child inventing some mysterious illnesses to avoid school, for example, stomach aches, headaches etc? In US, it is estimated that 160,000 students miss school everyday due to fear of bullying by other students. Do you find any missing belongings, like money, jacket from your child’s possession? Poor performance in school, lack of concentration in doing home work, irritable mood, desire to be left alone, are some of the indicators parents should look for.
Help your children in developing social skills and the art of helpful socialization. By teaching them family values you can you can give a boost to their self-esteem, self-confidence and help them in regaining the damaged dignity. Tell your teenager to act brave, walk away and ignore the bully. With their input develop some guidelines for using screen technology. Your teenager should not take cell phone to his bed room after certain hours. Some teenagers even send text messages during their sleep, just like sleep walking.Tell them not to share their password with anybody, including closest buddies. Tell them that they should never post or say anything on the Internet that they would not want the whole world to read, never respond to the bully; never engage in a chat room exchanges. Parents must look at their own boundaries too and become good role models. For a teenager from a visible minority things are doubly tough. There are number of harassment incidents of Muslim students in USA and Sikh students in USA and UK. According to The Council of American Islamic Relations, “the number of bullying incidents against Muslim students has spiked in the wake of perfect economic and political storm: severe economic distress and anti-immigration sentiments, continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the conflation of Islam with terrorism”.
It is best to have a meeting with your children and talk about the problems they are likely to face. My three children, 11, 9 and 7, went to an “All White” school. I warned them of possible racial taunts and slurs they would encounter. I emphasized the fact in order to be respected they have to excel in studies and if possible in sports also, and try to be leaders rather than followers and doormats. That is what they did, became star players and top students.
Net-technology is changing very fast. Tablets are taking the place of books; South Korea is taking the lead in the area. Apple is introducing “Kindle Fire” tablet which can store millions of songs and movies. That toy will entice the teenagers to spend more time on playful activities. They are already spending three hour with peers against one hour with parents. It requires tremendous patience to deal with teenagers, whose brains are not yet fully developed for making rational and discriminating decisions Let us all keep in mind that cyberbullying is a community problem., and let us deal with it collectively and thoughtfully. Let us protect our most precious wealth. Let us not forget the tragic murder of Miss Maple Batalia –a beautiful 19 year old SFU student-a model and actress who wanted to be a doctor