COMMENT: Parents need to take action to prevent cyberbullying

Shara JJ Cooper
By Shara JJ Cooper
April 14th, 2013

Like most parents in Canada, I have grieved for Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old teenager that committed suicide April 7 after being sexually assaulted two years ago. After the assault, she was cyberbullied until her breaking point.

As a parent, this terrifies me. I know I am in way over my head. Every parent feels that “kids didn’t act like that when I was young.” But for parents today, it’s a little more accurate.

I am of a generation that didn’t have cell phones in school. And the word “Internet” was only just becoming mainstream. Unfortunately, bullying isn’t new. But, what has changed is the tools.

When I had my first camera phone, I took random (pixelated) pictures and sent them to my friends. I had no idea that this fun toy would be used as a weapon. That’s the only word that seems appropriate when people are using it to torment victims until they find suicide to be their only escape.

What are parents to do? By all accounts, Rehtaeh Parsons had attentive parents that tried desperately to help her. If they failed, so could I. It’s a thought that scares me beyond words.

Rehtaeh Parsons was failed by society as a whole. I’m not assigning blame. I don’t believe people made a conscience decision not to help her.

Hopefully, the RCMP didn’t just decide it wasn’t a case worth investigating. Hopefully, her schools and teachers didn’t choose to look the other way. Like most people raising children in today’s world, they were probably at a loss. How do we handle it? It’s impossible to stop social media. Social media has a life of its own and frankly, most kids are more advanced than we could ever imagine. Parental controls? That might stop my 5-year-old.

As parents, I think we need to do what we do best. Keep on talking to our kids. We talk to them about sexual responsibility, money management, taking care of their bodies, friendship, career choices… the list goes on. Have you ever talked to your child about handling social media responsibly? 

Anyone that has ever logged onto the Internet knows how easy it is to say something that you might not say to someone face-to-face.The anonymity of the Internet has made our tongues a little freer. We don’t have to deal with in-person reactions. We don’t have to see the consequences of our words and actions.

Sadly, there will always be predators out there. But there are also those individuals that fall into a more benign category. Those Internet photos that were used to harass Rehtaeh Parsons were initially shared by the perpetrators. But then they were shared by others. Everyone that took part made a decision pass the files along.

They were stupid, irresponsible and mean – in the way that many teens are regardless of what technology is available. I don`t think this makes them predators. Teens are often self-absorbed. They don’t realize the consequences of their actions. It was easy to hide behind the facelessness of social media. They passed these images along for whatever reason. Maybe they did it for the shock value or maybe just because everyone else was doing it.

Even though my teenage years were technologically limited, I know many fellow teens that got caught up in the moment. Sometimes they taunted their peers because everyone else was doing it. Sometimes they betrayed a trust because they were desperate to seem ‘cool’ or they were bullied into it. While it probably wasn’t their proudest moment, it also didn’t define them as a human being. Now, it’s even easier for teens to do this. All they have to do is press “send.”

I can’t address the laws on social media. I don’t know how to put a system in place that will protect children in school. What I can suggest, is that parents continue talking to their children. Teach them about social media and the impact it has on other people. Make them understand that there is a real human being on the other end that is going to be affected by their decisions. Remind them that they are responsible for their actions and they have the power to help or hurt others. But most importantly – teach them never to do anything online that they wouldn’t do to someone’s face.

It may seem obvious, but so does sexual responsibility, money management, friendship, etc. We have to spell it out to them to make sure it sticks. Hopefully by the time they are forced to deal with cyberbullying, they`ll be able to use a little more caution when making decisions.     

Note: No charges involving Rehtaeh Parsons stuck so all accusations are alleged – but the end result is the same. 


Categories: IssuesOp/Ed