WASHINGTON, March 16, 2012 - Today, a jury convicted India-born, former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi for videotaping his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man. Clementi committed suicide on September 22, 2010 after discovering that Ravi set up a video feed of the encounter and had actively tweeted to friends about Clementi’s sexual orientation. Ravi faces deportation and up to 10 years in jail upon sentencing.
In the same year as Clementi’s suicide, 20 other gay youth killed themselves.
Sad as this case is for all parties involved, and in particular Clementi’s parents, it may send to other young people nationwide a message about the possible consequences of cyberbullying their peers.
The StopCyberbullying. Org advocacy website defines “Cyberbullying” as a situation in which “a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.”
One third of children 10 to 18 years old report being cyberbullied, but only 1 in 10 have reported it to a teacher, parent or educator.
Ironically, the verdict came in the same week that high school teen Katy Butler arrived in DC to try to speak with the Motion Picture Association of America over its decision to give a soon-to-be-released new documentary, “Bully,” an R-rating. The rating is due to a scene in which two teens hurl obscenities at each other.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan high school junior says she was bullied after coming out as a lesbian in the 7th grade. She said the R-rating would prevent more teens from seeing a movie that she believes could show them the severe consequences of bullying. Butler’s Change.org petition has garnered over 300,000 signatures. The film follows and chronicles the lives of five families dealing with bullying.
The similarity between cyberbullying and more traditional types of bullying is that, while there is no physical contact in cyberbullying, the torment from online harassment can wreak the same type of emotional damage. In January 2010, 9 teens were charged in the hanging death of a 14-year old recent Irish immigrant whom they bullied both physically and through Facebook and text messages.
In 2010, 17-year Alexis Pilkington hanged herself, allegedly after being cyberbullied on the site, Formspring.com. In the Rutgers case, Ravi had set up a video link that about 20 students viewed from on and off campus.
In 2006, parents of a 13-year old who killed herself after being the subject of a cyber hoax said they were saddened that there were no cyber bullying laws on the books in their state.
That is changing, albeit slowly.
Currently, all states except Montana and South Dakota have bullying laws but, as of February 2012, only 11 have proposed including cyberbulling in their existing laws, and only six acknowledge off campus bullying.
In this new digital era, children are becoming exposed to digital media, some of it interactive with other children at earlier ages. A recent Common Sense Media report revealed that 27% of young children ages zero to eight spend screen time with digital media such as computers, handheld and console video games, and other interactive mobile devices such as cell phones, video iPods, and iPad-style tablet devices. The opportunity for kids to interact and possibly taunt and tease each other is presenting itself for even the youngest kids.
Before it gets that far, groups like Common Sense are offering educators online toolkits to train them how to best deal with cyberbullying and help them know when it is occurring. They show students how to behave responsibly online and to avoid bullying others they meet online. They are also trained not to bully kids they know in the brick and mortar world in social media venues like Facebook and Twitter.
Part of the problem is that parents are not always knowledgeable about, comfortable with, or skilled at using the new social media and online platforms to monitor their own kids’ online behavior.
Below are some online resources and information for educators, parents and kids assembled by Common Sense Media, and shared with permission:
Generation Safe - iKeepSafe
Tools to help you manage and prepare for cyberbullying incidents
National Conference of State Legislatures
State-by-state info on cyberbullying laws
ADL Cyberbullying Resource Center
Workshops and advocacy tools
Pew Internet and American Life
Sources of credible cyberbullying research
Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use
Guidance on school liability and policy
Edutopia’s Digital Citizenship Roundup
Articles and community discussions on cyberbullying and more
For kids and teens:
MTV’s A Thin Line
Interactive tools engage older kids in defining what it means to “cross the line”
Nickelodeon’s Digital Citizen hub
A quiz asks: “Are You Cyberbully Savvy?”
That’s Not Cool
Catchy “call-out cards” and other tools help kids become upstanders
Webonauts Internet Academy
A PBS Kids game engages younger kids
NetSmartz.org Teen Center
Games and comics teach online safety
Online cyberbullying tip sheet
Online versions of our cyberbullying tip sheet PDFs and video
5 things to know about cyberbullying
Quick tips, plus an engaging video
Bullying is everybody’s business
An informative article about the four roles kids play in cyberbullying incidents
Advice for parents on other issues
Practical info on everything from texting to video games
The Rutgers case is a tragedy all around, but perhaps will represent an opportunity to prevent similar incidence like this in the future.
Read more Politics of Raising Children in The Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Jeneba Ghatt at @JenebaSpeaks. Her work can also be read at JenebaSpeaksm BlackWeb 2.0 and Politic365. She also co-hosts a Blog Talk Radio show called Right of Black which tackles current events and politics from a perspective not often seen in the mainstream media.
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