Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What it Feels Like to be Bullied

In order to better understand my take on cyberbullying and bullying in general, I need to provide you with some personal background information.

I was always a small shy child and as a result, I know what it's like to be bullied. How small was I? Well in the 9th grade I was 4'9" and 89 pounds soaking wet. However, I was athletic enough that kids my own size didn't bother me. On the other hand, I suffered at the hand of bullies who outweighed me 2 to 1 and towered over me.

Bullying was never really a problem until the 6th grade and that year there were two bullies who for some reason made it their personal quest to make my life miserable. One was the biggest kid in the school, who had been shaving for two years and I think was probably as old as some of the teachers.

I would wake up in the morning with my stomach in knots and spend recess trying to hide and avoid any contact with John. I spent as much time as I could in the lunch room making sure I was the last to leave. I wouldn't play in games, but would be a shadow to the teacher.

Three days a week, I had to wait after school for my mother to pick me up. That time alone was terrifying. One day, the message came through the grapevine that John was going to get me after school. I didn't know what to do. I'll confess that I never told my parents or my teachers about the problem. John's bullying was well known through out the school and I was hardly a his only victim, but he seemed to get away with it with impunity. I felt that I would have to deal with it myself and decided that the best defense was a good offense.

The cafeteria was in the basement of the building and we exited to the playground by going up a short flight of five steps through a wooden door that opened to the outside. On this particular day, rather than being the last one out of the cafeteria, I was the first one and John was not far behind me.

As soon as I got outside, I hid behind the door and looked in through the crack. When I saw John reach the top step, I swung the door shut as hard as I could. All I heard was a thud. John had a broken nose and was out of school for a few days. I have absolutely no idea I was not caught, but that doesn't mean that I didn't suffer any consequences.

I don't know which was worse, the fear that I lived with from day to day or the remorse over the action I took and what might have happened if John had fallen back onto the concrete instead of a dozen of my classmates.

I often dreamed of being able to bottle the fear that I felt each day and simply pour a quart of it over the head of any bully I encountered so that they would understand the implications of their actions.

As years went by, I realized that in many cases that would do no good. I realized the all too often these bullies knew that fear, because they were experiencing the exact same feeling when they went home. For me, my safe haven was home. For them, their safe haven was school and their terror was at home.

We are discussing the Megan Meir incident and bullying in general on the WWWEdu mailing list. There I made the point that the only way to stop the cycle of bullying is through a systemic approach. Bullying can be from peers or adults. As teachers we are required by law to report any signs of parental or sexual abuse. In NJ, all schools are required to have a bullying policy in place, but often it is not enforced . Many teachers aren't even aware that the policy exist.

I can't help but wonder how much bullying is tied to problems at home. My sense is that it is more than we want to admit. I think that stopping the cycle of parental abuse is integral to dealing with the bullying problem. It's not an easy fix!

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posted by Art @ 11:01 AM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another Cyberbullying Suicide Comes to Light

One of the things I stress at every presentation I give is to not over react when thing happen on the net such as receiving pornographic or explicit emails. Don't threaten to take away the Internet and realize that this sort of this happens often. Usually it's not because of anything the teen did. There are 40 billion emails sent daily and more than half are spam. Things like this are beyond anyone's control. It's the cost of doing business online. We talk about teaching kids how to deal with things like this and steps they can take to minimize the likelihood that it will happen to their children.

On the other hand, I stress that it's even more not to under react when they come to you about problems about cyberbullying. Last year Megan Meier committed suicide after an Internet relationship turned nasty. It is one tragedy piled on top of another. It appears that her parents gave her the right advice about not reacting to the taunts, but things went wrong. As things turned out the relationship was a hoax and the taunter was the mother of another 13 year old in the neighborhood.

CNN's Anderson Cooper did a segment on it and if I had my way every man, woman, and child in the country would have to view it, and understand that what happened to Megan can and does happen to others. Thousands of kids suffer every day because of cyberbullying. Obviously most do not end in tragedy, but every incident leaves scars.

Police said nothing could be done because no laws were broken. The prosecutor who originally declined to even investigate it, is now taking a second look at it. While it appears that there might not be any laws broken, I'm not sure about that. At the very least I feel there should be some kind of accountability on the part of the mother who faked the MySpace site and caused the incident. She was well aware if the history of bullying and depression that Megan faced. Her actions are inexcusable and she should be held accountable.

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posted by Art @ 10:51 AM   2 comments links to this post

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Two Days in Hammond, IN

I just completed 8 presentations in two days to students, teachers, and parents from St. Sanislas and Bishop Noll Academy in Hammond, IN. While my vocal chords think they just finished the NY Marthon, it was well worth it. I always like it when I have the opportunity to talk to all of the stake holders in a school district. Whether they agree with all I say is nowhere near as important as having the opportunity to get everyone on the same page and providing a basis for discussion.

For this particular presentations I did quiet a bit of customizing to my PowerPoints and video selection. I also tried something for the very first time. In two of the presentations, I asked students to come up on stage and we did a quick impromptu podcast using my cell phone and published it through gcast,com. You can access them on the right side of this blog.

While talking to them about not sharing too much personal information I made the point of being aware of what your friends are saying and sharing about you. To add a bit of empahasis to the statement, I showed them our new Flash animation Beware of Your Friends Online. It gives new meaning to the old saying, "With friends like that, who needs enemies."

The kids were a great audience and I was both pleased and grateful for the large parental turn out

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posted by Art @ 7:28 PM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Social Justice and Cyberbullying

Two days ago I was a guest of ERBU-TV's Daily Connections. I wrote about the non-airtime that I spent there on my Truth, Lies, Rumors, and Rumbles blog, but I'd like to talk a bit about the guest who appeared before me. Unfortunately, I don't remember her name, but when the show airs it will also be on the web and I'll publish the link here.

She was a history professor at the College of New Jersey and was discussing social justice with host Meredith Parker. The question came up as who's job it is to ensure social justice. She answered that everyone must do their part.

I couldn't help but think that when it comes to cyberbullying, that is the ONLY way that any progress can be made. Everyone had to do their part to stop or prevent cyberbullying. That means speaking out when you see injustice, not taking part in any activities, and doing whatever you can to create a bully-free environment.

Teachers, parents, and adults or all ilks must educate themselves and pass the message on to kid. Kids must realize that participating in these activities is just plain wrong and real people are hurt. Refusal to participate is just a start, but standing by silently when they see injustice is not enough. Some kind of positive actions needs to be taken, whether it's speaking out against the bully, offering support to the victim, or reporting the injustice to a responsible adult.

Yes, I'm asking a lot. Kids are kids and they pick on one another. I'm not diluting myself into believing a Utopia can be created. Maybe what I'm asking is Quixotic to the extreme, but that's the vision that's driving me and I will tilt at the cyberbullying windmill for the foreseeable future.

I'll be heading out to Hammond, IN tomorrow to spend a few days with students there talking about online safety and cyberbullying. Let's see if I can stay in the saddle. I'll let you know when I return.

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posted by Art @ 8:07 PM   0 comments links to this post