One of the new laws that started Jan. 1 allows schools to discipline students for cyberbullying. In the past I might’ve argued that schools enforcing discipline on students’ activities away from school was a nannystate overreach. But I’m not going to be the one defending the “right” of kids to be online sadists.
Some think the focus on bullying is overblown. Kids will be kids. Sticks and stones, they say. But it’s a whole other level now. When I was in sixth grade at Tolenas there was a girl who was picked on every day. There may have been a handful of kids who teased her and called her ugly but the rest of us were just as bad, either staying silent or laughing so the bullies wouldn’t target us.
That was bad enough but imagine if that young girl went home and she received text messages and taunts from people. She goes online and there’s hateful, threatening comments following her on social media.
I was fortunate that being a big kid with three older brothers, I never got bullied. The closest I came was a story I’ve told before of a group of guys in the eighth grade at Grange who would regularly bully classmates. I’d stand up for my friends and they’d back off. But since they couldn’t intimidate me physically they started and spread a rumor that my best friend and I were gay. Today I might laugh that off but attitudes were different back then.
I can only imagine what that would be like now with social media. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and texting, bullies could torment their victims around the clock. Bullies can supplement their rumors and lies with manipulated images. Today’s cyberbullying also incorporates revenge sexting. Today when a couple breaks up it’s not uncommon for the bitter ex to send nude or embarrassing photos to his or her friends. These photos go all over the school via cellphones.
I saw kids bullied and roughed up in school with a crowd of onlookers cheering the bullies on. Imagine that today with a dozen kids filming the attack on their cellphones and uploading it online.
That’s what happened last November in Houston when a teenage girl named Sharkeisha viciously sucker-punched a 17-year-old former friend and kicked her in the face. The attack was filmed and posted online and has since been viewed more than 11 million times. The video sparked Internet memes and parodies, and the victim has been laughed at, derided and taunted.
Imagine your bullying or beatdown posted online where it will be available for the rest of your life.
We’re not talking about trash talking during sports, an argument or being called a bad name. We’re talking about kids being singled out for sustained insults, humiliation, threats and battery that occurs daily at school and continues online. We’ve seen suicides and school shootings stemming from ongoing bullying.
So given that backdrop, I think the more tools the schools have to end this, the better. When evidence of cyberbullying is obtained and the perpetrators are suspended or otherwise disciplined, I hope the parents get on board.
When winter recess ends in Fairfield-Suisun, 23,000 K-12 students will return to school. How many are dreading it? That’s not right. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.