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‘Restorative justice’ for the cyberbully requires parents to be accountable

Michael Berry is a magnificent son whose life was lost to suicide in Septmeber 2008. He could not survive the murderous harassment of his cyberbully.

Last Thursday evening, PBS featured a student discipline program to curb conflict on campus called “restorative justice”, based upon the experience of Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado. The premise is that suspending students for fighting is not effective discipline. This new approach features gathering the students involved in an altercation with their parents and administrators to resolve the conflict with open communication leading each party to take responsibility for their own part.

According to the report this type of conflict resolution has resulted in a more peaceful campus community with fewer suspensions.

On the surface this looks like a good development.

Lisa Berry, founder of BRAVE Society in Carmichael, concurs that helping students to resolve conflict in ways that restore a relationships as fellow students on campus is a good thing. However, she also expresses concern that a hyper focus on going through the motions of making peace is one piece of the puzzle.

What happens when conflict and abuse is not on the radar of adults? The cyber communications makes it easy to conceal and elude accountability.

In the end, without individual accountability on the part of parents to socialize their own children with citizenship skills that inspire empathy, all children remain at risk of cyberbullying .

According to Berry, her son Michael took his own life on his 17th birthday in 2008 because the individual who started a rumor about her son’s sexuality and then nurtured it into a murderous harassment campaign that robbed her son of all affiliation and affection of friends and fellow classmates, was an example of a child who was never truly expected to be accountable for how his actions impacted others.

No empathy.

“I think if most parents are brutally truthful they know if their kids are bullies,” she said. “I also think if parents refuse to deal with their kids then they need to be held accountable.”

According to Berry, in Michael’s case the bully attack was not known by adults because the cyber communications enabled all of the kids to keep it hidden; and her son tried to get help from administration who did not grant him an audience because he was not perceived as a child “at risk”. Berry explains that the letter her son left revealed that the shame of being degraded so badly was too much humiliation to share with his parents and then when attempts to get help from administration failed, he concluded there was only one way out.

Berry encourages all parents to monitor mobile phone communications and hold their own children accountable for what they say and how they say it. "Parents should put themselves in the shoes of the child impacted by your own child's communications," she said. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We all need to be accountable for how our own actions impact others."

For more information about protecting your child from bullying, go to BRAVE Society.

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