The Internet has magical powers over the young, or so you would think from the constant drip of demands to stop children using it.
In the past week, the Professional Association of Teachers
called for social networking sites to be closed to prevent bullying,
Teachers in websites closure call
Teachers have called for websites such as YouTube to be shut down as part of efforts to prevent pupils and staff being bullied.
“Odd”, you may think, if you are over 20, “I can’t remember MySpace being involved on the day when 2 girls pulled a knife on me by the swings.” (Maybe that was just me)
“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” may be an exaggeration but it’s worth remembering even as an adult. There is a major difference between getting beaten up for your lunch money and someone saying something snide about you on the MySpace.
Adults could even intervene positively to help kids stand up to Internet “bullying”. Teaching kids to defend themselves with words and attitude is much safer when the kid in question is sitting behind a keyboard rather than facing a gang of their tormentors in the park.
The problem is the bullying, not the use of any specific means of self-expression to carry it out.
The deceptive anonymity of the Internet can bring out the worst in anyone, child or adult. If you ever accidentally feel too positive about human nature, a couple of hours on MIRC will wipe that cheery grin from your face.
If some kids are bullies and some kids are fearful of getting picked on, that’s the world we live in. Bullies are usually the most disturbed kids. They certainly pick on those they see as weaker, which is a pretty transparent indicator of their own feelings of weakness. Maybe, professional teachers could start trying to do something to stop them behaving as malevolent scum, before they start thinking banning MySpace is a good idea.
In June , there was a story claiming that:
One third of US online teenagers have been victims of cyber-bullying according to research by the Pew Internet Project.
The most common complaint from teens was about private information being shared rather than direct threats.
So already, the most common bit of Internet bullying is not actually bullying then? This paragraph is followed a list of behaviour that had counted as “bullying”. It included forwarding private emails, and a fair few other things that might constitute teasing at worst. The poor kid nursing a real-life black eye might quarrel with this definition. In fact, a kid who was a real victim of Internet harrassment and threats would probably also quarrel with it.
There’s also a BBC Health contribution to the regular concernfest that is the media’s kneejerk reaction to so-called pro-ana websites.
Pro-anorexia websites offering tips on extreme dieting are nothing new, but their growth on social networking sites is a disturbing new twist and brings them within reach of a wider audience
So girls with a natural relationship to food – i.e. eating when they’re hungry and not eating when they aren’t- are going to become anorexic because they stumble across one of these sites? Pretty far-fetched.
We send conflicting messages to young women. For instance, they are led to believe that they can best attract the father of their future children by being too thin to procreate. You’re considered a little odd if you are female and not on a permanent diet. In fact it’s almost seen as unfeminine not to be obsessed with your own body shape and not to hate yourself for deviating in any way from the skeletal ideal.
Whose fault is this? You can hardly see social networking as responsible. Were there no anorexics before Web 2.0? No bullies? The Internet can be depressingly ugly. At least the virtual mirror world makes us think about things we don’t want to believe exist. Pretending they aren’t there doesn’t make them disappear. Don’t shoot the Messenger.