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 was an intentional choice made by the author. The article appeared on May 30th, 2013.

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