A new pseudo-scientific and misleading study has been reported on by the Wall Street Journal, “No Easy Answer for Protecting Kids Online” and the New York Times, “Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown.” I’m sorry the headlines on this article allow people to draw the wrong conclusions, like “Threats exaggerated.” It’s a mistake to base decisions on comparisons stating that cyberbullying isn’t much worse than other bullying. A study that concludes that there’s no easy solution is a waste of time and money.
Of course there’s no easy solution. No one is really dumb enough to think there’s an easy solution. No amount of software will make the internet any safer than giving your money to Bernard Madoff or crossing the street.
Ignore the pseudo-science of the report. Instead, pay attention to our individual kids and teach them that “friends” on social networking sites aren’t really friends, they’re merely virtual contacts; no matter how sympathetic they sound or how friendly they claim to be. Obviously, dealing with malicious and vindictive virtual people (kids or adults) is much more difficult than dealing with people face-to-face. And we all know how difficult that can be.
Remember the adults who encouraged a teenager to commit suicide.
Cyberbullies and predators on social networking sites are with us. Of course we’ll find some software to help track down malicious rats and sexual predators, but we can never guarantee safety in the real world. Striving for absolute safety is the wrong approach.
There are no safe environments. That was the message I always got from reading the great hero stories when I was growing up. And each tale challenged me to prepare myself for similar dangers.
Schools and the real-world have never been safe. I remember a biography of Harpo Marx (remember the Marx Brothers). He went to school for one day. The kids threw him out the window (first floor). He came back in. They threw him out again. After the third time he didn't go back in. And never did again.
Schools and social networks are testing grounds for the real world. And the real world is not and should not be safe. Facing risks and danger helps us develop good sense, good character and the qualities necessary to survive.
Imagine growing up on a farm, in the wilderness or in the middle ages. Not safe. I grew up in New York City. Not safe. Millennia ago we had to learn what a saber-toothed tiger’s foot prints looked like and how long ago they were left. The world still requires survival skills, even if different ones.
As parents, we have the responsibility to monitor and guide our children and teenagers. Of course kids will object. How many of us thought our parents were right when they tried to limit what we wanted to do? As parents, we must be wise enough to know more about the dangers of the real world than they do and strong enough to stand up to their anger.
We must teach children how to face the real world in which they’ll meet bullies all their lives, even if our children are small and outnumbered. That’s independent of the type of bullying – cyberbullies, physical bullying or verbal harassment or abuse.
As I show in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” bullies are not all the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same. That’s why we can find ways to stop most of them.
When children learn how to stop bullies in their tracks, they’ll develop strength of character, determination, resilience and skill. They’ll need these qualities to succeed against the real world bullies they’ll face as adults.
Of course, coaching can help you design tactics that fit your specific situation.