In a suburban Pennsylvania high school, a well-behaved school sophomore with some diagnosed learning disabilities that made him different, used a hidden device to record seven-minutes of continuous taunting and heckling by other students during a remedial math class.
The desperate boy played the tape for the principal, who decided that a crime had been committed: The boy was going to face federal wiretapping charges for recording in a place with an expectation of privacy. Eventually, the kid was arrested and earlier this year was found guilty of disorderly conduct.
This past fall, in a suburb of Phoenix, a 25-year elementary teacher broke up a group of four boys yelling racial epithets at an African-American boy. She was fired by the school board after some parents accused her of using “rough language,” including “shut up,” which the teacher denies.
A lot of people seem confused about what constitutes old-fashioned bullying, let alone the cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment made possible by new technologies that intimidate many adults in authority.
Last month, a Congressional staffer posted a Twitter “tweet” complaining that the President’s daughters didn’t show class, touching off a fierce two-day debate among media commentators about whether or not this constituted cyber-bullying.
Many schools and organizations are latching onto “R.I.P.” as an acronym to define and identify bullying. Is it repeated? Is it intentional? Does it involve a disproportionate power relationship? Huh? Some schools changed “P” to mean, “Is it done on Purpose?”
Albany County’s 2011 attempt to reign in cyber-bullying by local law took 75 words to define it (“intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm…”). It was too vague and could be applied to almost anyone writing anything. It was struck down by the courts this summer.
Let’s not get hung up on definitions. Focus on the behavior and establish fair, consistent rules and consequences.
Rule One: Put the phone down when Mr. Miller is talking to you. That’s another story.
It isn’t bullying every time a kid calls another kid a name or shoves someone in the hall or even posts an embarrassing image of someone. However, new technology has changed the nature of harassment. Messages pop up on screen right in your home, when you’re not near or seen by anyone else. There are no safe zones. There is no down time. No walking home using a different route to avoid an incident. The new harassment can be 24/7.
Everyone is still feeling their way with the rules of social media. Young people aren’t big on thinking through the long-term consequences of their actions. They’re still learning everything. Parents and guardians have to play a big role in creating boundaries for them. Some adult in the room has to have a clue, and has to talk to other adults about what the kiddies are actually doing.
I’m going to throw up if I see another news release from a school district putting Wi-Fi on school buses and declaring them to be “Rolling Study Halls.” It sure keeps the kids quiet as they stare and tap at their phones, but I don’t think they’re all doing homework on three-inch screens.
Tonight, thousands of Long Island teenagers will be logged into Tinder, a dating app for teens. Many will visit sites where they can post anonymous messages, which should always set off alarms.
There are reasons they make me put my name on these columns. It makes me careful and it increases credibility. Help your kids to understand these concepts.
We don’t know what the emotional, physical and social consequences are going to be of a world in which people look at their palms and not each other. We can’t passively hope kids will work this out alone.