Cyberbullying – What does it look like and what can we do about it?
It will help us and our kids
prevent, avoid, and deal with
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Speaking out takes practice.
The only way to develop more allies is to educate students and adults about the roles they play in bullying. Participating in bullying role plays and discussing it with each other sensitizes everyone to the perspectives of all the players. This fosters empathy and compassion for the victim, builds a feeling of efficacy – I can do something to make this better – and creates a support group of peers who want to do the right thing. It teaches decision-making, the effect of our choices, builds character, and might even be the catalyst for a child’s self-realization that he is bullying others. Students come away with the powerful understanding that their choices affect how they and their classmates are treated.
For this understanding to translate into a change of attitudes and behavior, students must hear and believe these five messages from adults:
- You are not responsible for the actions of the bully.
- You do not have to live with it.
- We want you to report bullying.
- We promise, if you are being bullied, we will never leave you to handle it on your own.
- Reporting a serious problem is not tattling.
To show you mean it, make posters of these five messages to post around the school.
Strategies that empower
With these messages clearly delivered and received, we can teach students to take a stand to not join in bullying using strategies that convey confidence, show resistance, and assess situations. Role plays offer practice for:
- How to avoid being a victim.
- How to assess danger and act wisely.
- Ways to stand up to a bully.
- The exact things to say to the bully.
Doing the right thing takes personal courage and the ability to assess the situation. Acting as an ally or defender does not mean trying to break up a fight or getting into an altercation with a bully, and if you are the victim, standing up to a bully at that moment is not always the best choice. There is no set approach to stopping bullies in their tracks; specific circumstances and those involved determine the nature of each interaction. Bullies are often physically and mentally strong, act in groups, and have a sense of entitlement that is resistant to correction. Standing up to them does not always work and the target or ally can get hurt in the process. Sometimes the best thing is to get away and seek help immediately. To encourage reporting, some schools have successfully set up bullying hotlines to give students a secure way to report problems.
Victims should only stand up to a bully and an ally or group of allies should only intervene face-to-face when it feels safe to do so. Then they can firmly tell the perpetrator:
- Stop it!
- Don’t call her that.
- That isn’t funny.
- What you are saying (doing) is mean.
- I’m getting an adult.
Allies in cyberspace
The roles students play in cyberbullying are similar to face-to-face bullying, but cyberbullying requires additional cautions when you consider how public it is. Social media makes it easy to do, bullies can share photographs and cheerleaders can make anonymous comments, and the size of the potential audience is immense. The cyberbully feels protected and powerful because she does not have to face her victim, while the impact on the victim is immediate, widespread, and devastating.
First, young people need strategies to avoid being a victim of or encouraging cyber-bullying:
- Choose social media sites and friends wisely.
- Think about and be careful choosing what to post.
- Do not post, text, or email anything you don’t want the whole world, including your parents, to see.
- Do not take part in or cheer on cyberbullying.
- Use privacy settings and do not share passwords.
- Do not respond to cyberbullying.
Second, they need to know what to do if either they or someone they know is a victim of cyberbullying. A cyber ally:
- Tells a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult right away.
- Keeps evidence of cyberbullying.
- Blocks the offender.
- Reports it to school.
There is safety in numbers, especially for young people who are greatly influenced by peers. The goal is to create an active majority of allies, adults and students, that knows what bullying looks like and the role they can choose to play. When people refuse to take part or to look the other way, and instead report incidents of bullying to adults who can help, the ally peer group grows and the school climate changes to one of positive action where bullying behavior is no longer tolerated.
Bullying involves more than just the bully and the victim.
My last post was on the Pepsi Max test drive commercial and how thinking that mistreating another person is funny and not speaking up to denounce what offends us encourage bullying behavior. PepsiCo, the YouTube audience, bloggers, commentators, and the business groups and ad agency reviewers who praised the commercial all played a role in perpetuating the myth that bullying, if done “in fun,” is okay.
This happens in school, too, when bystanders, both students and adults, choose to ignore or encourage this type of violence, and often think it is funny. But bullying isn’t funny. It is abuse committed repeatedly against a victim that escalates over time, where the perpetrator appears to enjoy the power to intimidate and hurt. It shows a lack of empathy, compassion, and respect for others. It is predator behavior and we are charged morally and legally to prevent it from happening, and to take swift action when it does.
What role do we choose?
Once we accept that bullying is a type of violence and is a problem in our schools, where do we start? Bullying prevention efforts begin by developing an understanding of what violence is, the forms it takes, and why it is hurtful. Then, to change attitudes and behavior, students and teachers need a breakdown of the specific ways we participate in bullying:
- Victim (target of the bullying)
- Perpetrator and co-perpetrator (the bullies)
- Ally (defender of the target)
- Bystander (is aware it is happening)
- Audience (congregates and watches)
- Cheerleader (actively encourages the violence)
Each of these roles is a choice we make as an individual and each has an impact on the continuation of bullying. The perpetrator, cheerleader, and ally choose to take a lead role and openly encourage or discourage the bullying. They make a decision to do something. The bystander and audience take what appears to be, but isn’t, a passive role. They make a conscious choice to not do anything. Taking no action one way or the other is not a neutral position. Inaction is a decision to allow the bullying to continue.
What do these roles look like in face-to-face bullying?
The perpetrator and co-perpetrators decide on a target, someone they perceive as weaker and more vulnerable than they are. They make a decision to tease, demean, threaten, dominate, and hurt the victim, and then they corner and attack.
Cheerleaders actively encourage the attack by verbally egging on the bully, suggesting things to do to the victim, laughing and cheering, and verbally abusing the victim. The perpetrator and cheerleaders feed off of each other and escalate the violence. Cheerleaders can easily cross the line and become co-perpetrators.
A bystander is aware of or actually witnesses the bullying, and the audience stands by and watches the bullying happen. In both cases they do nothing to intervene and help the victim. Their choice allows the violence to continue and, by their silence, they become accomplices.
An ally or defender is a bystander or member of the audience who makes a decision to do something to stop the bullying. It could even be a cheerleader or co-conspirator who has a change of heart and realizes it is wrong. The ally steps in and advocates for the victim by telling the bully to stop, helping the victim get away from the situation, and telling an adult what happened.
Adult and student allies who take positive action to support or defend the victim, and victims who speak up for themselves are the answer to reducing bullying in our schools. Once we know the important role we can play, we can become an ally.
Next: Part Two of From Bystander to Ally is about learning how to speak out.
You might have seen this. Millions have.
A man shows up to a car dealership and eyes a hot sports car. The salesman engages him in conversation and offers to put him behind the wheel to try it out. The buyer, a middle-aged, timid mini-van driver, says the Camaro would be too much car for him. He didn’t know if he could handle it. The salesman reassures him it is safe so, after he signs all the necessary papers, they go for a test drive.
Then all hell breaks loose. He drives like a maniac, speeding recklessly and doing stunts that would give anyone a heart attack. The panicked salesman looks afraid for his life. He tells the driver to slow down, to stop the car before he wrecks it, that he’s going to kill him, and when they finally screech into the car lot, the traumatized salesman bolts from the car to call the police.
But, wait the driver tells him. It’s not what you think it is. It’s a prank. We were just having some fun.
The joke is on him.
The “test driver” is actually Jeff Gordon, a professional NASCAR/Stock car driver, in disguise. Pepsi sent Jeff to a Chevy dealership to get him behind the wheel of a Camaro, to “scare the bejesus out of the salesman riding shotgun.” http://www.sportsgrid.com/nascar/jeff-gordon-pepsi/)
The Pepsi Max commercial immediately went viral on YouTube with 31 million views in one week and, as of March 22, it became the 14th most viewed ad of all time. The Internet is abuzz. (http://www.unrulymedia.com/article/22-03-2013/new-test-drive-ad-puts-fizz-back-pepsi)
The accolades pour in:
- It’s genius.
- The funniest video in years!
- The car salesman’s reaction is hilarious.
- That guy definitely got poned. (according to Internetslang.come poned is an acronym for “Powerfully owned, dominated”)
A controversy surfaces:
- The ad world and many YouTube viewers say it’s all a fake.
- That it was staged with actors and done with multiple takes.
- A stunt driver stood in for Gordon.
- Maybe Pepsi shouldn’t fake out consumers like that.
Some mixed feelings are voiced:
- While it is definitely mean, it is funny.
- This is cruel but also enjoyable and funny.
- A sort of mean but incredibly funny prank by Pepsi and Jeff Gordon
- It was funny as can be, but my heart still went out to the poor guy.
The real message is missed.
The upsetting issue is the negative message the prank sends: If something is funny, it excuses cruel, dominating, demeaning bullying behavior.
My first reactions to the video, like the woman whose heart went out to the poor guy, were shock and empathy for the salesman. I felt so bad for him, not only because he was scared, but also because his suffering was a joke played on him and shared with the world. Staged or not, what it showed, under the guise of humor, was outright mean and callous. This is the opposite of what we are trying to teach our children about how to treat each other; that they should go beyond the traditional Golden Rule to the Golden Rule of Empathy that teaches us to treat others as they want to be treated, with the understanding that everyone has basic unalienable rights that must be respected.
It all hinges on empathy.
The foundation of non-violence and respect for others is our ability to put ourselves in their shoes, to see things from their perspective, to feel this empathy for them, and then to act with compassion. Empathy allows us to evaluate what we see happening, make informed decisions, and choose our actions wisely. It leads to respectful and compassionate conduct toward others, something this Pepsi commercial, entertaining or not, does not model.
Bullying take s a village of bystanders.
I wish more people had spoken up about how cruel a practical joke the commercial was and were less concerned about whether it was real or a fake, or if it was a good marketing tool to sell more Pepsi Max. The popularity of this ad illustrates the role of bystander in bullying, the audience that lets the bullying continue.