Obama Combats Cyberbullying-- How Can We?
With social media, a new generation of bullying has emerged. While many adults remember childhood and adolescent bullying as something that occurred on playgrounds and within school hallways, today's youth experience harassment in new forms. Online, bullying takes place in a virtual world, but the consequences are very real. Children and adolescents are emotionally impressionable, and cyberbullying-- a topic that goes unnoticed-- can cause psychological harm. At first, we may think of cyberbullying as a childhood struggle. In actuality, cyberbullying is extremely dangerous. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, more than half of America's teens experience cyberbullying. Each year, 19,000 attempt suicide as a result.
In the midst of economic troubles, health care debates, and pressing national problems, President Obama has announced himself as a supporter and ally of cyberbullying victims. On March 10, President Obama, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services invited students, parents, teachers, and other leaders to the White House for a bullying prevention conference.
To reach teens and children, a StopBullying Facebook page is available as a resource to help individuals identify bullying, to pinpoint warning signs, to find help, and to research LGBT rights. This resource is clearly aimed towards a young demographic--individuals who are fragile, impressionable, and in need of social support.
While Obama's gesture is admirable (obviously, he has a lot on his plate right now), this page forces us to take a step back and question -- who's responsibility is it to stop bullying in the online space?
The answer: all of ours.
Technology is rapidly changing, which opens doors to new forms of communication between children, teenagers, and young adults. Simply banning teens from Facebook and IM isn't an answer-- these technological resources are valuable, and it is important for us to embrace these tools while we evolve as a society.
Regardless, open dialogue about the causes and consequences of cyberbullying is necessary. When we see it on a screen (as opposed to in-person), we may think that the results are inconsequential. In actuality, it's important to recognize that computers and the Internet have become important cornerstones in mainstream communication. Through emails, blogs, and other content, we deliver profound messages while exchanging important content.
Texts, IMs, emails, and Facebook posts relay important information. It's imperative that we raise children -- through education, parenting, and community support-- with values concerning responsible social media use. Social media provides valuable channels for communication, and we should encourage our country's young people to use these resources for good.