Cyberbullying, like the use of interactive technologies, is trending younger and younger. Two years ago, while speaking to a group of parents (some of whom brought their young children) I asked the audience for definitions of cyberbullying. A little cherubic second grader shyly raised her hand, offering her definition. I smiled to myself while calling on her.
“Cyberbullying is when, if you like a boy and he already has a girlfriend, you go online pretending to be his girlfriend and break up with him. Then he can ask you out.” Her shyness turned quickly into smugness, and I was blown away. Second grade? What in the heck was she going to be doing by third grade?
While this little girl was my first second grade expert on cyberbullying, she wasn’t the last. Not by far. About six months ago, I was speaking to a group of second graders. When I asked how kids can cyberbully each other, a young boy raised his hand. “They can cyberbully each other using Wii,” he offered. When I probed further, I learned that the kids can upload a photo of the cyberbullying target and draw means things on their photo or shoot it, slime it or otherwise attack the target by defacing their image. On Wii!
The fourth graders taught me about extortion. Unlike their older counterparts who use sexual harassment as their torment of choice, fourth graders blackmail each other. “If you don’t do X, I will post this online!” “If you don’t give me Y, I will tell everyone your secrets!” “If you don’t Z, I will tell [your parents][the principal] [the teacher][everyone] what you did!”
Armed with handheld gaming devices with Internet connectivity, cell phones and Internet access, they threaten, harass, extort, embarrass, expose, lie and pass rumors about their acquaintances and former best friends. They do it to be funny. They do it to be popular. They do it for power. They do it to see what happens. They do it to impress their friends. They do it to reinforce their own social status. They do it for revenge. They do it to defend others. They do it by being careless. But they do it. More and more, everyday, kids are hurting kids.
Why? They tell me it’s because they can.
No consequences. Anonymously. They can be mean and get away with it. They can do and say things they would never do or say in real life. They don’t see the hurt, understand the realities or look at it from the target’s perspective. Courtesy and kindness, respect and caring are all abandoned in favor of their 15 megabytes of fame, power and attention.
I worry about what the kids in nursery school will teach me next year.
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