How a little knowledge can help save children’s lives and dignity.
There’s been a lot of discussion in the media regarding ‘cyber-bullying’ and teen suicides on the heels of the very public suicide of 15 year-old Amanda Todd. CBC.ca reports on a study that suggests teen deaths related to abuses on social media are on the rise. Meanwhile, various memorials have been held in Ms. Todd’s honor with many of these been used as the focal point to compel authorities implement new laws to punish cyber-bullies.
While this seems a reasonable response to the problem, it can and will only result in higher costs of policing, while doing nothing to reduce risk of further abuses. For one, it’s extremely difficult for police to find and convict online bullies, and even if we can find them, we can never be sure that this was the person who made the comments. Online vigilantism is not applied law, in fact, it does not meet the test of evidence – but we are satisfied that if someone is punished, justice has been done. We are left in a position where we now become the bully in order to extract some perceived measure of justice for the indignation we feel when faced with the terrible reality of suicide.
In the end, there is much discussion, trauma, and consternation around cyber-bullying, but there are some simple solutions that can and will prevent much of problems we face this way. It starts by a frank recognition of what Facebook is.
Facebook and Social Media are Fertile Ground for Bullies and Exploitation
“Facebook is no playground. It’s more akin to an open air public market where the people are the product. It is as cold as a poker game and as self-serving. It seeks in no way to protect its users…”
When we talk to someone, we look at them and observe how our words affect feelings and well-being. We own our words in this way. Facebook is no playground. It’s more akin to an open air public market where the people are the product. It is as cold as a poker game and as self-serving. It seeks in no way to protect its users – be they children or not – and is only interested in sales; sales of products to people, and people’s data as products. Because it encourages users to post as much about themselves as possible, Facebook has become a prime source for legitimate (paid) and illicit ‘data mining’, with some companies scouring pages for clues for potential customers, while other scan for suggestive material to be used in other pornographic sites and magazines.
In short, allowing a child unfettered access to Facebook is not that different from letting them run free and unprotected in the world’s largest open air market, with more than a billion people there to look at them. While some experts talk about what to do after the damage has been done, this does nothing to solve the real problem of the threats to children that exist online.
5 Practical Solutions to Cyber-Bullying
There are many discussions in schools and in the media designed to shame children out of bullying others. At the same time, other agencies are looking at pushing new laws to restrict free speech. This amounts to a nanny state where the Nation waits to wash our mouths out with some severe soap.
What will ultimately be more effective is if parents follow some simple guidelines to ensure their children are not targets. Here are some practical ways of preventing bullying.
1. Use WordPress for Memorials, not Facebook.
When people realize that Facebook (indeed all social media) is only concerned about market numbers and not safety, they will want to restrict or at least monitor their children’s activity. You would not send a child into an open market without watching them. This is no different, perhaps even worse given that we can’t see who’s watching. Posting a memorial page on Facebook and complaining that there are unsavory comments posted is like sweeping a beach, and complaining there’s more sand. It cannot be controlled. Period. WordPress is a free web development tool that provides all the functionality you need to create great websites and blogs where you can control what is posted to the public.
2. Protect freedom of speech, but teach dialogue, and compassion.
Children should be shown to only say things in electronic media that they would have the courage to say in person – and to justify their words. They also need to be taught effective and positive communications skills in school. We choose to be compassionate, kind, and patient – or not. When we practice active loving, we are driven to show compassion, kindness, and patience when others are suffering and hurting us as a consequence. (In other words, we can try to see a bigger picture.) Or we can choose to return the hurt and the pain. This is to choose a certain death through isolation and the propagation of darkness in our lives and through the lives of people we hurt.
3. Use software to limit access to dangerous sites, to limit how much time is spent on a computer, and to monitor what a child is doing online.
Start here: http://parental-software-review.toptenreviews.com/. If you don’t know which one to pick, use NetNanny. Tell your child that you are monitoring what they do.
4. Remove/restrict access to computers in bedrooms.
You will not only find you have a child who sleeps better, they will also be more likely to focus on homework and other duties around the home. Use software to control when a child can get online and for how long. If a child is not available for bullying, they will not suffer. Like wood on a fire, parents only feed the problem when they allow children to participate without restriction.
5. Children do not need smartphones with internet and text access.
Consider NOT buying your child one of these until they can clearly demonstrate self-restraint and control. Cell phones are not a RIGHT and a good parent will make tough decisions in order to allow their children to grow in positive ways.
It’s OK for parents to set limits and to allow children to see that some behaviors are not only unproductive, but potentially dangerous – to health, to academics, and to one’s sense of identity. Fighting bullying begins by preventing contact between our children and those who have ill intent. Common sense, an awareness of what Facebook really is, and some simple software solutions can go a long way to removing the threat.