Bullying in the Digital Age

sticks&stonesLast week, I recommended some apps and games for kids. This week, I have a book recommendation for parents. I just finished  “Sticks & Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy” by Emily Bazelon. Emily tells the stories of three different teens who were bullied both offline and online. Along the way, she presents a clear picture of bullying in the digital age as well as everyone’s role in preventing and stopping this behavior.

Bullying has always existed. Most bullying is still what we remember from school. What is new is how kids can take it online where bullying becomes relentless and inescapable. Cloaked in anonymity and without context, kids can create an electronic trail of meanness. This trail can also be seen by parents and adults who can take action. In the age of social media, bullying involves everyone.

Emily’s advice to parents is to know the sites your kids are on. Parents need to understand what kids are doing online and how they are using these sites. Formspring comes up a lot in the book. Formspring is a Q&A site where people can ask questions and anyone can answer. Unfortunately, many teens use this platform as a popularity contest and ask questions such as “who has the prettiest hair?” to “who do you hate?” At the end of March, Formspring is shutting down. Other sites are popping up. Parents need to teach that the golden rule still applies in the digital world, “treat others as you want them to treat you.” 

The book also devotes a chapter to Facebook. The author was able to sit down with Facebook’s Hate and Harassment Team to see first hand how it deals with complaints. The good new is if kids complain that they are being bullied or harassed online the site takes their word for it and removes it. The bad news is when others report about behavior, such as parents or schools, Facebook investigates and only takes it down if it clearly violates their Terms of Service. Emily argues that Facebook could do a lot more to enforce their own rules. She also believes it is not just Facebook. Parents have a “responsibility for making sure our kids use Facebook wisely.”  

This book provides an excellent road map for parents on cyberbullying and bullying. Parents should definitely read her section on “Frequently asked Question about Bullying” and her list of resources. If you want more information on cyberbullying, check out these great websites.

Stand up to Cyberbullying – CommonSense Media

Cyberbullying/StopBullying – US Dept. of Health and Human Services

School Safety Center – Washington State’s OSPI