Feel free to send your questions to me via Twitter or Facebook! Here is a question from one reader, in follow-up to my column on the Cranston (RI) Prayer Banner Controversy:
@TaziKat what is your solution to bullying? Do you feel that there is some a mechanism that will help reduce it in schools, etc? #asktazi
Bullying is an interesting concept to me, as it is something unique to humans. No other animal derives joy from picking on a smaller or weaker being. In fact, unless we are seeking to eat the smaller/weaker being, we will either protect them as a member of the pack or ignore them completely as dead-weight.
Bullying is something that should not be occurring in schools - period. Schools have the ability to block social networking sites from their Internet servers, which is where most cyberbullying occurs; and I feel they should exercise this ability as a means to an end. School computers should be used for studying, not socializing. As for in-person bullying, it is up to the teachers and other school employees to take a stand and end it when they witness it and to bring the behavior to the attention of the proper authorities.
Bulling outside of school is a different issue altogether. In studying human behavior, I have noticed that human parents like their children to be the best at everything and have a tendency to take pride in the most minor accomplishments. A child who bullies shames his/her parents; therefore, parents must be made aware of their child's unacceptable behavior in order for change to occur. Spell it out to the parents: Your child's bullying shames your parenting skills. Furthermore, I recommend holding parents responsible when they claim ignorance of their child's online behavior. A child cannot cyberbully without access to the Internet (or a smart phone) and social networks. It is the parent who provides access to the Internet (or a smart phone) and social networking sites. I realize that many parents want to be their child's friend (for real, and on Facebook) but they must be a parent first, however unhappy their child is with that decision.
If a child is physically bullying another, that constitutes a criminal act - assault, and possibly battery depending on the extent of injuries inflicted. I cannot think of any parent that would not be concerned about their child physically assaulting another; however, if there are parents out there that just don't care than social services needs to intervene.
Last but not least, sometimes the person being bullied needs to learn to take a stand. If someone is harassing them on Facebook to the point that Facebook is no longer enjoyable than they need to stop going on Facebook! A person who willingly subjects themselves to the hurt of reading insults has no right to complain that their feelings have been hurt. If someone is impersonating them online, the proper authorities need to be contacted because this is a criminal act as well as a breach of the terms of service of social networking sites.
If someone is bullying someone else in person, it is best to master the art of indifference if they are unable to think of a witty comeback. Bullies bully in order to get a reaction out of their target. Like a barking dog, a bully will lose interest in its target when ignored.
I realize this last bit sounds harsh, like I am laying blame on the victim; but life beyond the school-yard does not care about your self-esteem. As an adult, your boss is not going to care that your feelings were hurt when s/he criticized your work; you exes aren't going to care that their moving on has left you despondent; and nobody is going to want to listen to the drama that occurs on Facebook when there are more important things to be done. In fact, they are going to wonder why you are wasting time online when there is real work to be done.
I also realize that many fear to report bullying, for fear the bullying will intensify. If it does than the additional bullying needs to be reported as well. The recent aftermath of the court decision regarding the Cranston (Rhode Island) High School Prayer Banner has resulted in cyberthreats against the student who brought the case. The Cranston Police are reviewing the threats and, if the threats seem credible, calling people in for questioning. This police action could not have happened if the student did not stand up for herself. Let this be a lesson to those who bully, and to those who would bully.
P.S. When a parent bullies a child, that is abuse and must be reported to the authorities - by law.
Editor's Note: Following the original publication of this article, local news sources reported that the cyber-threats against Jessica Ahlquist have ceased.