Everyone’s a target these days. Cyberbullying is not only a problem for Blac Chyna (whose ex-boyfriend Rob Kardashian was posting nude pictures of her on Twitter earlier this week) or for a young Reddit poster (who was threatened by CNN for creating a video of Donald Trump wrestling CNN to the mat), but also for ordinary children at high schools and even elementary schools across the country.
A few weeks ago Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new law to fight cyberbullying in schools. Known as David’s Law after David Molak, the San Antonio-area teen who was harassed online until he committed suicide in January 2016, it allows for the suspension of social media accounts of minors with temporary injunctions. It also obliges schools to notify parents of both perpetrators and victims if evidence of cyberbullying is uncovered. Texas isn’t the only state tackling cyberbullying with legislation; many other states have criminalized such harassment.
These are good efforts and the Texas law is useful in that it requires some kind of communication between schools and parents and also gives schools some ability to institute consequences even when bad behavior takes place off of school grounds. But none of these laws are likely to offer immediate relief to children who are suffering right now.
Cyberbullying is primarily a function of the amount of time that kids spend online, particularly on social media. If a child reads an obnoxious message once a day or once every few days, it’s not likely to cause deep emotional trauma, but to look at a steady stream of messages on Twitter or Snapchat that insult and demean is too much even for most adults. Singer Ed Sheeran recently described getting off Twitter because of the trolls constantly insulting him. “I’m just not going to wake up and read something and be like, ‘Oh, well that’s ruined my day.’ I don’t want to choose to do that anymore.”
But Sheeran has more will power than most kids do. He knows that there is a whole big world out there full of people who are kind and many who even enjoy his music. For kids, though, there is often no such sense of perspective. The whole world becomes the kids at school who are mean. And whereas coming home used to be a kind of respite, now, thanks to social media and smartphones, the bullying just continues.
The solutions to this problem, though, do not ultimately lie online. A father recently took to Twitter to try to help his son deal with a bully at school. “Strange request. Anyone know anyone famous/well known who could send Ollie a positive/9th birthday message. The bully keeps saying to him that everything O has, he has bigger/better/more often. O excited for his birthday but keeps being told it won’t be as good as his own.” Ollie has received many positive notes in response from celebrities like Russell Crowe, among others. And his father is thrilled by what’s happened.
It’s a cute story, but frankly this is not a very useful way to combat bullying. “Look, son. I know this kid is being mean but there are lots of celebrities who don’t know you from a hole in the wall who have sent you messages on Twitter!”
Seriously, it’s our job as parents to protect our children to the extent we can from the most obnoxious sorts of people. But we can’t always do that. Sometimes, we just have to take the advice our parents and grandparents gave us: “Just ignore them.” What kids need to learn is that it’s much easier to do that with the Wi-Fi shut off and the smartphone put away.