Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me. So says the children’s rhyme that harkens all the way back to the 1800’s. Oh, if only it were so. Meanness abounds still, and in today’s toxic, Internet-happy society, it’s sometimes taken to new levels--all too often with dire consequences.
Indeed, nine children reportedly took their own lives during the 2012-13 school year. The culprit: cyberbullying. Meanwhile, about 16% of our high schoolers have been victimized via the Internet, with girls targeted twice as often as boys: 22% vs. 11%.
Just this past September 9, a Florida 12-year-old, Rebecca Sedwick, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory tower after being “terrorized” for months via online message boards and texts by as many as 15 girls.
The result: just yesterday, October 15, authorities arrested two girls, 12 and 14, on third degree felony aggravated stalking charges. The “tipping point,” said Sheriff Grady Judd, was when one of them allegedly posted the following on Facebook on Saturday: “Yes, ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [“I don’t give a f***].”
She claims her Facebook account was hacked, that she hadn’t written the post … Meanwhile, the girls’ parents apparently were uncooperative, refused to bring them to the police station, and did not stop their daughters’ use of social media.
And, of course, hurtful behavior is not limited to the cyber variety, and that’s borne out by the following statistics:
- About 56% of all students have witnessed a bullying event while at school.
- One out of every 7 children, kindergarten through 12th grade, has been a bully or been bullied.
- More than 71% of students said bullying is an on-going problem.
- The top years for bullying are from 4th to 8th grade.
- Each month, about 282,000 high schoolers are reportedly attacked.
- About 10% of students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.
No wonder, then, that October is recognized as National Bullying Prevention Month and that 49 states—all except Montana—have anti-bullying laws on the books. Even Congress has jumped into the fray with the re-launching of its Anti-Bullying Caucus, helped along by Lee Hirsch, director of the documentary Bully, and the Kennedys, too.
Said its chairman, Representative Mike Honda: “We must acknowledge publicly that we have a bullying epidemic in America. This is a problem that is both profound and pervasive.”
Meanwhile, this summer Montgomery County’s District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman announced the creation of the county’s first-ever cyberbullying and bullying task force report and manual. It offers advice and suggestions for dealing with the problem and is available to all county school officials and parents.
At the same time, all across the country our schools continue to tackle children’s hurtful behavior head-on. Indeed, many Montgomery County districts have long since implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which, for starters, comes with a cost of $1,500 to $3,200 for just the School-Wide Guide and Teacher Guide. Nevertheless, bullying persists.
Bottom line: Bullying has captured everyone’s attention, and, for some, is a money maker, too. The upshot, though: unintended, negative consequences.
A recent University of Texas in Arlington study found that “bullying prevention programs in school generally increase incidences of physical and emotional attacks among children by teaching kids about the ins and outs of bullying.”
As lead study author Dr. Seokjin Jeong explains, “The schools with interventions say, ‘You shouldn’t do this,’ and ‘You shouldn’t do that.’ But through the programs, the students become highly exposed to what a bully is, and they know what to do or say when questioned by parents or teachers.”
His solution: “Move beyond individual risk factors and focus on systemic change within schools.”
But remember that kindness begins at home, so share this simple, do-it-yourself problem solver with your kids at every turn: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, Standard English Version)
Plus, by the way, the Golden Rule happens to appear in the scriptures of almost every religion, including Confucianism: “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find this is the shortest way to benevolence.” (Confucianism. Mencius VII.A.4)
Makes a lot of sense even in this day and age of computers, iPads, and smartphones, no?