Cyberbullying: “I Learned It by Watching You”

Teen at computer

Photo courtesy Intel Free Press

As a parent, I’ve been thinking a bit about bullying recently. You see, I have a thirteen-year-old. She’s pretty, opinionated, and willing to buck the trend. She’s also entering eighth-grade in the fall. She’s right in the thick of it. Luckily, she has a strong sense of self-worth, and this does a lot to keep the bullies at bay. She also attends an arts magnet school where such shenanigans are minimal. There are a few kids who get suspended here and there, but it isn’t an overwhelming problem.

The modern bully’s weapon of choice is clearly the internet. The one time my daughter did face significant bullying came from a Facebook group. Luckily, the group had been set up by a friend and was quickly disbanded.

On blogs like this one, and in the main stream media over the last year, there has been a lot of head shaking and tongue wagging regarding cyberbullying, especially after a couple of high profile young (white) girls committed suicide. There has been ink spilled and Twitter campaigns, all in the name of figuring out what is wrong and how to stop it. None of this is bad per se, but all of it takes place at the 30,000 foot level of the national media. On the other hand, I live at the 10 foot level of being a dad with three daughters.

Then, a few weeks ago, an event helped crystallize for me something which should have been obvious. It also helped me understand that my choices have a say in how my kids think about and respond to cyberbullying.

I first learned about Prancercize from my Google news feed—that’s pretty viral. Wondering what the heck Prancercize was, I clicked on an article from The Atlantic.The invention of Joanna Rohrback, Prancercize is “a springy, rhythmic way of moving forward, similar to a horse’s gait and ideally induced by elation.” The video of Rohrback demonstrating her exercise went viral for all the wrong reasons.

As I read a rather mean-spirited and mocking post, it suddenly became clear to me that the behavior of the writer and commenters was in substance exactly the same as those teenagers who get caught up in trying to feel good about themselves through making fun of someone else. Whether the target is a teen or an adult, putting down the perceived awkwardness of others is still the exact same game.

Those who see such internet fame as largely harmless would argue that there is a difference between poking fun of an adult and a fourteen year old teen. In the end, I might not agree, but I am sure they could make a good case. It’s also back at that 30,000 foot point of view that doesn’t really impact my life as a parent. I could imagine how it would go over if I tried to tell my teen that it was okay for me to make fun of the Prancercize lady because she was an adult, but that my daughter can in no way ever put down any of her classmates online in case she gets suspended from school. Actions speak louder than words.

I must have sat there for thirty-seconds looking at the video link on The Atlantic. I was highly tempted to click on the link, just to see what made the video the cause of so much personal scorn. I will guess that most people who saw the video watched just for this reason. Most of us are bystanders who participate passively. Not that many of us are mean-spirited. As a parent, I realized I couldn’t watch and have any clout with my teen when it came to bullying.

I didn’t watch the video. I had a talk about it with my teen instead. It became one of those check-in moments in which I was able to ask about how life was going. Things are good for her, and I realized that my choice just made them a little tiny bit better.

The decision to not provide a link to the article about Prancercize on theatlantic.com was an intentional choice made by the author. The article appeared on May 30th, 2013.

Erik Wecks

About Erik Wecks

Erik is a husband, father, and full time writer living in Vancouver, Washington. The author of both non-fiction and fiction, as well as a contributor to LitReactor.com, Erik spends much of his time hunched over a keyboard. He is the author of the science fiction novel Aetna Adrift and the best selling personal finance book How to Manage Your Money When You Don't Have Any . You can find more information about the things he has published on his website.

Erik Wecks

About Erik Wecks

Erik is a husband, father, and full time writer living in Vancouver, Washington. The author of both non-fiction and fiction, as well as a contributor to LitReactor.com, Erik spends much of his time hunched over a keyboard. He is the author of the science fiction novel Aetna Adrift and the best selling personal finance book How to Manage Your Money When You Don't Have Any . You can find more information about the things he has published on his website.

14 thoughts on “Cyberbullying: “I Learned It by Watching You”

  1. Great post, Erik… you hit it on the head. It’s the old “Do as I say, not as I do” that’s so incredibly wrong, especially for parents. Trolling is an art form now, and the media likes to portray the kings of troll as some anti-hero… sometimes they even get positive attention. We tell our kids to be nice to others, but we as adults have a very hard time not slamming other adults in forums and comment threads. Definitely something to think about here.

  2. Much the same sentiment I have so often nearly espoused to George Takei on Facebook. But held off because it isn’t like a comment by a random person would get noticed on such a page.

    When he started doing his Amazon Feedback “humor” contributions was the first time I was ever made aware of the trend.

    Some products were made specifically to be mocked, they are meant for humor. Those are great. But some other products are actual products, and have been scorned so terribly… for no good reason.

    Nice to see someone else with similar thoughts: We need to stop sucking individually if we want the world to stop sucking as a whole.

  3. I’m not certain I understand your decision not to watch the video. I do agree with the point that you can’t make fun of her and at the same time tell your kid not to make fun of others – I don’t think mocking another person is in any way right.

    But I don’t see just watching the video as mocking her. I went ahead to search for the video and all I saw was an elderly lady who seemed to really enjoy what she was doing, and that was amazing. I looked through the comments and most of them were positive and encouraging – great, awesome, etc. Yes, there are people that will latch on to these things and make fun of these people to make themselves feel better, but there are also the folks that can draw inspiration from it, or who will stand up and say and do the right thing.

    I apologize – I’m really quite exhausted right now, so perhaps I’ve missed a point you made that answered that. If not, I’m just wondering, I suppose.

    • Christopher,

      I think you make an excellent point. Watching the video itself is not automatically mocking her. You showed yourself to be a true and beautiful geek because you celebrated the person behind the creation. That is fabulous and I commend you. Awesome job!

      I will make two points in response to your comment. 1. I learned about it because much of the internet was making fun. This video didn’t go viral because of its perceived quality. 2. I was tempted to watch the video to see what made it so awkward. Watching the video for those reasons would have been wrong because it already participates, albeit passively, in the bullying. I wasn’t going to watch in order to celebrate Joanna Rohrback.

      In this case you show yourself to be a better man than I Christopher. Well done my friend.

  4. I agree. Bullying in direct or indirect form should be discouraged even if it does not seem to be hurting that much. Technology especially with the surge in web related stuff has the potential to be either your friend or enemy. I myself keep an eye on what my kids do on their computer using a parental control app called Qustodio, I can actually see what they do on the web as also who they interact with on Facebook (the app allows me to watch the profile pictures on FB). That way I know that their time spent online is well spent and that they are away from its dark side as well.

  5. Agreed. But let’s be careful to distinguish between an act of bad behavior and bullying. One person putting down another one time is not bullying. (It may be bad behavior). I think bullying typically is a pattern or habit. Imagine a school where one instance of mocking someone got a child labelled as a bully. We’ve seen that zero-tolerance rules are pretty bad. (Not saying you were suggesting that… :)

    Where it gets tricky is that a group of people can engage in bullying without any of the individuals perpetrating more than one act. In your example of the Atlantic article, I’d say neither the writer nor any person who left a single mocking comment were acting as bullies. But in aggregate, there is bullying happening. It’s actually similar to the Tragedy of the Commons in micro-economics. Each individual may be doing something that’s not THAT terrible in isolation, but it adds up to something bad.

    • Kayvaan,
      That is a fantastic point! Although I would argue that I and the author of The Atlantic piece have a larger duty to be responsible with what we write. We carry a bigger microphone. Because of the size of our audience one act might be considered bullying. To me it is one thing if I make fun of you privately. It is another if I make fun of you on a stage like this or even Facebook, which is where much of the teen bullying takes place.

  6. I laughed at the Prancercize video because it was funny, but I remember being mostly amazed that she could keep that up without tripping. I would have been on my knees 30 seconds in! Good for her!

    I don’t have kids (would give anything to). However, I was bullied in school, so I know how important it is to make sure your kids know it’s not okay to pick on people. If I did have them, I would try my best to raise them as kind people. You’re well on your way to doing that. Checking in with your kids, helping them feel connected to you and the family, gives them a strong foundation for loving. Hopefully they’ll spread that around. :)

  7. I enjoyed reading your article, and it took me a minute to realize the video that had made the rounds a while back was what you were talking about because like you I didn’t watch it. It is nice to see someone else not jump into the pile “just because everyone else is or does”

  8. Lots of good points, but I was wondering why was it necessary to point out that the children who’d committed suicide were white? Does their color determine the tragedy level of these children being bullied so far as to see suicide as their only option? I could understand it if you were doing a piece based upon the racial components of bullying, but that’s not at all what it was about. As an Hispanic mother and grandmother, I’m disturbed at how race seems to be the forefront of absolutely everything these days in our society, as if race was the deciding factor in how people act or behave, or how they react to events. As you said, children learn from our example, and pointing out something so insignificant as the race of these poor lost children makes it seem that it was their color that mattered far more than their end. White, black, brown, whatever, my heart breaks equally for their parents and those left behind. I’m sure you feel the same way, but you conveyed the opposite. While you were having that talk with your daughter about the Prancerize video that you were so proud of yourself for not watching, I wonder if she also picked up on the tragedy of these “white” children who’d died, or if she was far wiser than her father and picked up only on the loss of these lives to cruelty without caring what color they were. I hope she chose the latter, but again, children learn what they see and hear from their parents – and sometimes what they read in their parents’ blogs.

    • Anna,
      I can see that I didn’t communicate clearly enough in the article above. The point I was trying to make is that the media attention paid to the suicides only seems to reach the level of frenzy if the children are white. It seems to be the same with disappearances. If a little girl who happens to be Hispanic disappears or commits suicide little attention is paid. Most often, it is treated as a local story. However, if a white girl goes missing or dies tragically sometimes it becomes a national story, particularly if she is middle or upper class. I am with you. I mourn equally for all the children and their parents no matter their ethnicity or race. I hope that clears things up. I think the media frenzy surrounding any of these situations is somewhat unnecessary. It leads to a fearful overestimation of how often such tragedies happen. However, these frenzies are strongly consumer driven. Just like cyberbullying, if we don’t watch they wouldn’t talk about it so much.

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