Cyberbullying has been a major theme in headlines over the past few months. The teen suicides of Long Island’s Alexis Pilkington and Massachusetts’ Phoebe Prince, as well as the bullying of California teenager Autumn Albin, have generated legislative action from California to New Hampshire.
Here is a brief look at what four states are doing to stop bullying.
In wake of Phoebe Prince’s death, the Boston Herald reported that both the state House and Senate passed anti-bullying bills in March. According to the article, both bills seek to “curtail bullying in schools and in cyberspace.”
A recent Philadelphia Enquirer story highlighted the fact that kids today are putting away their dolls and action figures earlier in favor of online games and social networks. One dollmaker, interviewed for the story, said his company used to make dolls for girls up to 12, now, he says, “By the time they hit 4 or 5, they want a cell phone.”
Using Technology Earlier
We can debate whether this is a positive or negative turn in our culture, but the fact remains that kids are turning to online games much sooner then they were a decade ago. This is due both to the proliferation of high-speed internet into the home and the increased market of online games aimed at children. Case in point, my 6 year-old begs me everyday after school to play Club Penguin, a virtual online environment where he has a cartoon penguin avatar and plays games with other users. When I was 6, if you were lucky enough to know someone with an Atari, you might get to watch an older kid play it.
It started innocently enough seven years ago as an act of performance art where people linked through social-networking Web sites and text messaging suddenly gathered on the streets for impromptu pillow fights in New York, group disco routines in London, and even a huge snowball fight in Washington.
But these so-called flash mobs have taken a more aggressive and raucous turn [in Philadelphia] as hundreds of teenagers have been converging downtown for a ritual that is part bullying, part running of the bulls: sprinting down the block, the teenagers sometimes pause to brawl with one another, assault pedestrians or vandalize property.
There is a lot of discussion about who should teach kids how to stay safe online. Why do we care? Because kids are going online in huge numbers, and while online they encounter bullying, scams, and sexual predators.
Kids should receive online safety education at home, at school, and from the vendors that provide internet products and services.
Online safety education at home
Computer use is fundamental to our society at this point. From the time our kids are infants, their images are posted online. Kids today communicate with their family online through social networks and gaming, they check for homework assignments and movie times, and they shop.
I came across a very disturbing newscast the other day regarding a trend in middle schools and high schools in California and other parts of the country. It’s about a trend called “scooping.” It basically amounts to sexual assault, although it seems to be treated as if it were just a harmless game.
Scooping is when a boy comes up behind a girl and quickly shoves his hands up the front of her shirt, grabbing her breasts, then runs away (Urban Dictionary). Watch the video below for details of one incident at a California middle school.