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Cyber bullying no childhood prank

Posted: October 7, 2010 9:42 a.m.
Updated: October 8, 2010 5:00 a.m.

If you mentioned “cyber bullying” to someone just five or six years ago, the words alone would have elicited a few giggles.

Bullying is typically associated with picking on someone face-to-face, usually through hitting, name calling, teasing or taunting -- you know, methods that generally require some sort of direct contact.

So it’s not too hard to imagine that several years ago, the thought of tormenting someone through a computer screen was somewhat laughable.

But then Facebook happened, and grew at a lightning speed. YouTube, webcams, blogs and Twitter became popular just as quickly, throwing our drama-loving teens into the midst of a wired world.

And then Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped off of the George Washington Bridge two weeks ago, making him the latest casualty in a string of teen suicides that have resulted from relentless harassment via social networking sites and blogs.

All of a sudden, the idea of cyber bullying didn’t seem so funny anymore.

Middlesex County prosecutors say Cleminti’s roommate Dharun Ravi and fellow student Molly Wei used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man.

Ravi and Wei’s actions were horrendous, unconscionable and particularly hard to stomach.

But I’d be willing to bet that the two students never thought that Clementi would commit suicide as a result of their actions, leaving them to face serious prison time.

After all, they are just bullies, right? How dangerous could a couple of bullies be?

“Government statistics show that at least a third of students age 12-18 report being bullied during the school year. And the consequences can sometimes be life-long,” according to Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post article.

And sure, more than 40 states have implemented bullying laws in recent years, but how often this law is enforced remains to be seen.

My guess is that a lot of schools and adults still prescribe to the “kids will be kids” ideology. And to most parents, bullying is typically viewed as a rite of passage into adulthood.

So while bullying remains to be a pervasive and dangerous problem in our schools, cyber bullying is on the rise -- proving to be more visually potent, more far-reaching and ultimately much more difficult to fight.

It’s the same taunts and insults that mean girls and guys hurl at the one defenseless kid on the school playground, except now those same insults and taunts can travel to thousands of people at the speed of light by simply clicking a button on an iPhone.

It’s easy to blame the Internet and social media for providing the opportunity for kids to bully each other online.

But I think the real crime lies with the tweens and teens, who don’t seem to understand the implications of their actions.

It’s past time that we taught teens that they must use good judgment and common sense when using any kind of technology.



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