My friend Larry Magid, the co-director of ConnectSafely.org (with Anne Collier) and founder of SafeKids.com, has a sharp new piece up at CBS News.com entitled, "Stop Cyberbullying with Education," in which he rightly points out how "we need to be careful with legislation that would outlaw cyberbullying." He points out that although cyberbullying is "not an epidemic and it's not killing our children":
Bullying has always been a problem among adolescents and, sadly, so has suicide. In the few known cases of suicide after cyberbullying, there are other contributing factors. That's not to diminish the tragedy or suggest that the cyberbullying didn't play a role but--as with all online youth risk, we need to look at what else was going on in the child's life. Even when a suicide or other tragic event doesn't occur, cyberbullying is often accompanied by a pattern of offline bullying and sometimes there are other issues including long-term depression, problems at home, and self-esteem issues.
He goes on to provide some solid advice:
identifying the reasons kids are acting as bullies can go a long way toward preventing it as can educational programs that stress ethics and cyber citizenship ("netiquette"). It also helps kids to know what to do if they are victims of bullying. At ConnectSafely.org (a site I help operate) we came up with a number of tips including: don't respond, don't retaliate; talk to a trusted adult; and save the evidence. We also advise young people to be civil toward others and not to be bullies themselves. Finally, "be a friend, not a bystander." Don't forward mean messages and let bullies know that their actions are not cool.
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, don't start by taking away his or her Internet privileges. That's one reason kids often don't talk about Net-related problems with parents. Instead, try to get your child to calmly explain what has happened. If possible, talk with the parents of the other kids involved and, if necessary, involve school authorities. If the impact of the bullying spills over to school (as it usually does), the school has a right to intervene.
And Larry cautions against rushing into legislative solutions that would criminalize the problem and throw the book at kids instead of adopting a more sensible education and counseling approach to the problem. This is very much in line with the approach Berin Szoka and I set forth
in our recent PFF white paper, "Cyberbullying Legislation: Why Education is Preferable to Regulation
." While some truly troubled teens who instigate truly awful cyber-bullying attacks might deserve some time in the juvenile justice system, that shouldn't be our first option for all kids involved in incidents. Anyway, read Larry's essay
Full disclosure: Larry and I are currently serving together on the new, congressionally-mandated Online Safety Technology Working Group. (OSTWG)