HUGE 3 page article in the Times today about the dangers of cyberbullying among teens. Clueless parents who don’t know how to text are baffled at their children either bullying or being bullied by other kids (usually kids they know and with whom they attend school) on line. Facebook is singled out (hey NY Times, stop ‘promoting’ Facebook, would you?) as a leading culprit, which might not surprise anyone who has seen the film The Social Network. I could go on and on here about many issues brought up in the article. Bullying is almost solely a domain of schooled children. I’ve never heard of a case of bullying among homeschoolers/unschoolers. And why? Well, I sort of feel like I repeat myself a lot, but contrary to popular belief, kids who learn outside of a school setting just tend to be better at handling themselves in social situations. They are not subjected to hours and hours spent only among a small group of peers in a coercive environment. They are also surrounded by family almost all the time; and the kinds of families that choose to keep their kids out of school for their education are not generally the kind who model inappropriate behavior for their kids or ignore their kids. There may be exceptions, but they are few and far between. And we all have our bad days, but as my homeopath always says, “It’s not what you do now and then, but what you do every day that counts.”
What struck me in the article, which you can read on line at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/us/05bully.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper is that parents seem so disconnected from their kids and that they all accept that bullying in some form is unavoidable; they just don’t know how to handle it on line.
One girl who’d been caught bullying on line was seen by her mother as a well-behaved straight A student. The mother’s response, after her initial shock, was to
“[take] away her daughter’s computer, television and cellphone for months. She tried talking with her. Nothing. There were weeks of screaming and slammed doors. Meanwhile, the girl’s grades dropped. She was caught with marijuana. [The mother] realized that her daughter had long been bottling up many family stressors: illness and death, financial worries, her mother’s exhausting schedule. In reaction, the girl had been misbehaving, including doing the very thing her mother found so abhorrent: cyberbullying. In time, as she took long walks with her daughter, the girl began to resemble the child [the mother] thought she had known.”
Many people in the comments section of this article again blame technology. Some blame poor parenting, but their idea of ‘good’ parenting is restrictions on technology, not necessarily just spending time with their kids (and it doesn’t have to be tons and tons of time) listening to what they have to say. You’d be amazed (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many parents don’t ever really listen to what their kids say. No wonder the kids stop telling them anything.
No one blames the school culture. Not one person. People accept bullying as inevitable. They accept that it is inevitable even from their friends. This is one of the comments posted on the Times site:
“As others mentioned, the hardest thing about bullying, taunting and people spreading lies and rumors behind your back is that very often your friends are involved… centrally involved. Middle school, even elementary school friendships often have a very intense love/ hate/ jealousy element to them. I lived through all this not too long ago.
I believe what is most important, even beyond teaching your children to be good citizens online, is to instill in them COMPASSION and RESPECT– do not judge others unless you want to be judged; treat others exactly as you would want to be treated. Above all, children are extremely perceptive of how their parents behave and treat others. They will base their own behavior on this example.”
Despite the fact that this young person obviously dealt with bullying (from friends, no less) in school, school is not to blame. This person is right that kids will model their parents behavior, and so if parents behave in hypocritical fashion they have no reason to believe their kids will do otherwise. But most kids spend 8 hours of every day in school. The school culture has an influence. A bigger one than this article or anyone commenting on it is acknowledging.