The biggest kid on the playground who picks on and steals from the weakest kid in school has been the silhouette for bullies for decades. In today’s digital world, there is a new face of bullying: the person with the best computer skills and the most insulting Facebook comments. But who is really behind these words?
The bullies have advanced their methods in the new digital era. Their threats and insults are permanently floating around online. Now, we are all involved in bullying as we sit scrolling through the insulting comments floating around the internet. Rosalind Wiseman, an author of two books on teen bullying says, "Because [cyberbullying] is so public, it makes everyone feel like it's happening all the time…The thing that makes the victims feel desperately miserable is the feeling the entire community is ganging up on them and nobody is coming to their side.''
On September 9, 2013, in Winter Haven, Florida, 12 year old Rebecca Ann Sedwick took her own life after another 12 year old girl and a 14 year old girl bullied her for almost a year. The two bullies used social media sites and physical confrontations to torment and harass Rebecca to the point where she flung herself from the top of an abandoned, three story concrete factory.
How does this happen? Where do two young girls learn to think that relentlessly harassing someone is acceptable? As Polk County Sherriff Grady Judd, the lead investigator put it, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
It’s a well known fact that children form their personalities from the examples of their parents. Adolescents need guidance in order to figure out right from wrong. Everyone makes mistakes they must learn from, but bullying is not a mistake minors make on their own. There is always some force behind a bully fueling their harassments. In Sedwick’s case, the bullies were supported by their parents.
Sherriff Judd looks to convict the parents of the 14 year old bully for tolerating the harassment of Sedwick. The girl posted on Facebook that she didn’t care Rebecca killed herself. Instead of punishing their daughter, the girl’s parents covered for her saying her account had been hacked. Sherriff Judd replied with, "You tell me that there's not parents, who instead of taking that device and smashing it into a 1,000 pieces in front of her child, says, 'Oh, her account was hacked?' We see where the problem is.”
The teens themselves can be punished for the act of bullying, but their parents should be held responsible for encouraging such behavior. The mother who attempted to cover for her daughter’s heartless post after Rebecca’s death was arrested for child abuse in an unrelated event, on which Judd commented, "This clearly indicates to us that this appears to be a normal way of life." The two girls didn’t wake up one day and decide to be bullies; they followed their parents’ lead.
The unfortunate reality is bullying is not a crime in Florida, so the worst crime the girls can be charged with is aggravated harassment. The issue of bullying is dealt with state by state; the severity of the punishments range from none at all in some states to incredibly strict, like in New Jersey, where the mention of the term “bullying” will likely lead to a full blown investigation.
Few may argue that we can only parent kids so much and we can’t hold their hand through everything. Yes, we can’t shield our kids from the horrors and pains of making mistakes, but we need to be able to recognize their bad behavior and correct it accordingly. It’s one thing to be unaware of a bully, but it is entirely different to turn a blind eye to, or in the Rebecca Ann case, cover up for a bully. It is a difficult issue to handle, but it can be dealt with. Completely eliminating bullying is nearly impossible; anti-bullying advocates are looking for justice.
Negative involvement of parents has always been present in the history of bullying, but parents are not entirely responsible for these cases. It’s not a definite a child will not become a bully if their parents don’t help them harass another child. However, the bad examples some parents set for their children have an even greater impact on their victims due to social media. Parents not only need to set good examples for their children, but they need to be involved in what their children are doing online.
Jimmy Hunter is a student at Westfield High School.
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