School Violence and Cyber-bullying Threatens our Civil Society
Where is Dr. Drew? Where is Dr. Phil? Why aren’t they devoting every show to school violence, cyber-bullying, and the general decline of civility and ethics in society? Don’t they have a responsibility to use their good names, significant influence, public persona, and vast resources to help stem the rising tide of violence in schools and the killing of innocent young children? I find them wanting in all these areas. Maybe these kinds of shows do not draw the ratings. If well-respected psychologists like Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil don’t care enough to take the lead, and then who will?
So, here we go again. On January 10, a 16-year-old student who blasted a California high school classroom with a shotgun was targeting two classmates because he felt he'd been bullied. One student was hit and was in critical but stable condition, and the shooter was in custody after a teacher and the school's campus supervisor talked him into putting his shotgun down.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he did not know whether bullying had actually occurred between the Taft Union High School students.
Over the past few years, cyber-bullying has become the most serious problem facing our schools and the consequences can be devastating including suicidal ideation on the part of the bullied individual and even suicide. Unfortunately, school violence has now surpassed cyber-bullying as the number one problem because it can lead directly to the death of innocent school children.
Cyber-bullying has become all too common in part because of social media. The bullying can be done anonymously. The party being bullied may not even know the person doing the bullying. At the beginning of bullying, the self-esteem of the victim is hit very hard. The victim feels guilty and confused at the same time, trying to figure out why this is happening to them. As it continues, social skills begin to fade away even more and depression starts to set in. If no help is found or if the bullying isn’t even noticed, more severe consequences start to surface.
I can’t help but wonder whether Adam Lanza, the mass killer at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was bullied because he may have had Asperger’s syndrome. Of course, that doesn’t excuse his behavior. What he did was horrific and shocked our national conscience and it raises the broader societal issues of civility and ethics.
The Golden Rule that we should treat others the way we want to be treated has been replaced in our society by a sociopathic, antisocial personality disorder syndrome that bubbles over at the slightest provocation, whether real or imagined, leading to the disasters we have witnessed at Sandy Hook and the shootings at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater.
We need a change in the culture of society that uses the anonymity of the Internet and social media postings to mock others and strip away their dignity. It often starts with offensive postings and can lead to videotaping the event that goes viral.
Likewise, the ethical standards of our schools need to catch up with the technology. Students must be taught an Internet ethic just as they should be taught societal ethics in the classroom. Given the amount of time most teenagers spend online each day, accountability and personal responsibility must become part of each school's response to cyber-bullying. There should be zero tolerance for such activities with suspension and ultimately expulsion the penalties for harassing another student in cyberspace. I ask: “Where is the moral outrage? Do we have to wait until a horrific event such as a mass suicide occurs before passing legislation making cyber-bullying a federal crime as are discrimination and sexual harassment?”
There needs to be sustained public attention to the horrific school shootings and cyber-bullying. We need a person such as Dr. Drew or Dr. Phil to develop community-wide education and outreach programs to educate the public to the signs that something might be terribly wrong with their kids. We need public forums on these issues – town hall-type events where parents and teachers can come together and discuss their concerns and share observations with professionals like Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil.
Principals and teachers have to take a more active role in talking about school violence and cyber-bullying and provide options for troubled kids. Schools should have mandatory psychological evaluations for all kids starting in third or fourth grade.
I leave you with two quotes that sum up where we are as a nation. The first is attributed to Edmund Burke: "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." The other addresses the role of teachers and how they can influence young people for good. This quote is attributable to Henry Brooks Adams: “ A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 15, 2013