Cyber Bullying

Dharun Ravi will spend 30 days in jail.

The 20-year-old Rutgers University student spied on his roommate with a webcam and showed the world Tyler Clementi and another man having sex.  Later Clementi killed himself.

Dharun Ravi could have faced up to 10 years in jail. The jury found him guilty on all counts that were brought against him, but the judge said that the laws meant to enforce hate crimes were not intended for this type of incident.  Ravi was not charged with murder.

There has been a backlash on both sides.

One point of view is that the a 20 year old college student was doing a prank and didn’t envision the possible consequences of his roommate taking his own life. The other side says a 20-year-old person is plenty old enough to know this type of cyber bullying could ruin a person’s life.

All of us have known bullying to some degree.  To combat this cruel and lasting childhood trauma, people are beginning to devise ways to help children who are “targets” of this type of abuse.  Anti bullying curriculum is practiced in almost every school yet I don’t think anyone considers bullying to have decreased. It may only have been chased into the ubiquitous underground.

When I was teaching it was more obvious and easy to see what was going on. There were tears on the bus or playground or locker room. There were signs in the classroom of who was tormenting whom. We tried to keep an eye on kids, but it was impossible to follow them in the halls and to the bathroom.

Eventually, something would happen that couldn’t be denied or ignored. Teachers, advisors, school psychologists, administrators and parents were called to attention. Conferences were held and children were interviewed. Through “behavior contracts,” or peer mediation, or behavior modification, or even suspension, kids were identified and some things were taken care of.  If the behaviors continued students were eventually “counseled out” of our private school.  I’m not sure how severe bullying was handled in public schools. My guess is that kids aren’t expelled from a school unless there is some type of physical assault or threat of one.

Now, however, I’ve heard that kids use social media as their bullying choice. Kids post awful lies and implications on Facebook. Often there are pictures and videos such as in the case of Dharun Ravi.  Most of this type of thing is done outside the schoolhouse walls, but the problem still impacts the school and its policies and actions.

Parents, teachers and schools are trying to keep one step ahead of these problems. Facebook has policies and can remove people from participating. Parents can have kids “un-friend” another person. There are monitors, firewalls, and lots of types of security to try to protect young people.

Nevertheless, this cannot stop kids from telling lies, invading another person’s privacy, and ruining another kid’s life as well as their own. In the worse case scenarios, a write up is put in a kids file and can deny a student admission into many, if not all, universities.

Students need to be constantly educated in the policies of the school as well as the laws of the state about invasion of privacy and the consequences of bullying. Kids try to make light of the whole problem and make jokes about being a “victim” even if a friend playfully tussles with them. It’s no joke, unreported bullying can lead to school dropouts, low grades, health problems and thoughts of suicide.

Activities that involve creative problem solving, role playing and even trust building can help kids have more empathy for “the other.” Getting kids out in the community to work in food banks or help with tutoring broaden their compassion and help kids be more accepting.  Instead of isolating and protecting our not so innocent teens we need to wisely pick places where they can lean into the discomfort of seeing how others live and why differences are to be celebrated. It works.

As for Dharun Ravi, I think he got off easy with the 30 days, community service, and $10,000 fine.  Any kid smart enough to get into Rutgers is smart enough to figure out what he did was not just a college prank. But, regardless of the outcome, Ravi’s life is pretty much ruined.  It’s hard to escape this type of notoriety.