Sunday, March 31, 2013

why definitions matter...cyberbullying

I get a hundred emails a week telling me that should explain that cyberbullying happens to adults too. I reply, often, explaining that adult online bullying is called "cyberharassment" not cyberbullying. (and handles adult issues) While the actions may be identical, we traditionally use the word "bullying" for minors. We may say that a student who was beaten up on the playground was "bullied." When the same act occurs between adults, we call it "assault and battery." Why does it make a difference? Because youth deserve greater protection from harm, in our society. It's our job, as adults, to help protect them from harm. Adults have access to resources to protect themselves while many youth do not. And young people, as the bullies, often do not face the same consequences of their actions as adults. That means that cyberbullying solutions are different than cyberharassment solutions in most cases. Unless we define the problem carefully, we cannot define the right solution. So, if you say "cyberbullying" while I say "cyberharassment" and we can't communicate. US Supreme Court Justice Stephens said "I know it when I see it." (he was talking about porn, but it works just as well here.) We may know it's wrong. We may know it shouls be taken seriously. We may know it should stop. But unless we also know what to call it so people who can offer help understand what help you need, we can't offer help. Sometimes the simplest of changes, like using the right term to describe an action like cyberbullying, can be the start of something good.