A debate: Is cyberbullying inevitable, or can parents stop the tide?
It occurs to me, as I write, that a good analogy may be the debate about firearms. Somewhere in my wallet, next to the rarely used gym card, lies a lifetime membership card from the National Rifle Association. I belong to the NRA primarily because I believe that there will always be vile creatures like Kid A slouching around, looking to cause all sorts of anguish, and that if the Kid Bs of this world were left without the means of self-defense, evil will eternally triumph. In other words, rather than have the government (or the parents, or the schools, or the courts) protect me, I’d rather be given the chance to protect myself.
With technology as prevalent as it is, there’s little need to worry about regulation or intervention. I watch with dismay as parents and teachers try to impose their authority on what is, by design, a virtual chaos, where nothing is true and everything is permitted. As is the case with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, I firmly believe that the best way to prepare young people to enter the thicket of the Internet is to instill in them the good taste and common sense they need to navigate through temptation and ruin, and then let them explore on their own.
As they do, they are very likely to come across the mean bastards who make up so much of humanity’s ranks. And when they meet those mean bastards, there is no better tactic, I think, then striking swiftly and resolutely, speaking one’s mind and standing one’s ground. Thankfully, kids now have at their disposal the tools to do just that.
Seriously? Your response to bad behavior is to encourage worse behavior? If one kid brings a 9mm to math class, the solution is to give the kid at the next desk an Uzi?
Rather than encouraging a kid to use fists and guns and YouTube, a parent’s job is to teach healthier ways of self-expression and the importance of kindness. One of the hair-tossing, sneering, Valley-Girl-inflected participants in that video said on camera, “Nobody doesn’t talk shit.” Grammatically questionable, but factually indisputable. Lashon hara is everywhere. But as parents, we should at the very least teach kids that you don’t throw your shit-talking up on the Internet where the object of said feces-spew and her friends and family can see and hear it.
You seem to think my answer to bad online behavior is to regulate technology. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I don’t believe it’s actually possible—look at how successful the TV and recording industries have been at stopping illegal downloading. But I think—and perhaps you find me hilariously naïve—that the world is made up of communities. Not just the big anonymous community that is the Internet, but smaller, Venn diagram-y communities—schools, neighborhoods, religious institutions, families—who know each other in the flesh as well as in the pixel. And a parent’s job is to convey the values that will make a child a good, moral member of those communities.
The story here is a father whose kid did something despicable, who not only excused her behavior but also insisted that he was fighting for American values. Feh. The kid is a bully, and the dad is a bully. The daughter offered to take the video down, and the dad wouldn’t let her. There was a teachable moment there, and he blew it like a vuvuzela. There was a chance to show Kid A how to do teshuvah—nuke the video, apologize to the girl, accept the school’s punishment, get your own punishment at home, and have a serious discussion about values and morals—and Daddy A abdicated that responsibility.
I could not agree with you more that a parent’s job is to convey the values that will make a child a good, moral member of his or her community. Which is precisely why I choose to focus on that community—or, more accurately—on the environment in which the kid will come of age. That, I’m afraid, is where technology comes waltzing in.