I sometimes fear that I am becoming jaded as I seem to read endless stories of cruelty and injustice being done upon people. It seems that hardly a day goes by when one does not come across some story an individual falling victim to some form of outlandish and inhumane treatment. I find myself more and more just shaking my head in resignation before moving on to the next item in the papers.
The story of the suicide of Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince - a victim of one of the intense campaigns of Cyber Bullying to date - has stunned me to attention.
When I was in high school there were two ways of bullying another student: gossip and writings on bathroom or locker room walls. And back in the day, the prevailing attitude was such acts were those of "kids being kids." As you know, nine of Ms. Prince's classmates have been charged in the Snow case and two of the parents have dismissed the acts of cyber bullying against Ms. Prince as "kids being kids."
There is something very, very wrong here.
As I prepared to post this blog, I spoke with several friends who are also psychologists to ask them to help me to understand the psychological reasons for a person to engage in cyber bullying. These are the points they all asked me to keep in mind.
Most important is the fact that acts of bullying are acts of emotional and psychological abuse. Abusers are individuals who crave control and dominance in order to fulfill something that is lacking with their lives. Abusers profile others whom they believe they can abuse without fear of their victims attempting to defend themselves. The results of psychological testing to be done of those responsible for bullying Ms. Snow will prove educational.
What makes cyber abuse unique is the fact of anonymity. This option provides cowardly abusers with a blank check for their activities without fear of being held accountable.
Within the last year, the reality of cyber bullying has become a reality in my pastoral life. I have found myself included on at least two anonymous "blogs." Both of these blogs provides indictments of the psychological health of the authors rather than towards their intended prey. Unlike Phoebe Prince, I'm a bit older and have grown thicker skin to better dismiss the blogs attempting to bully me.
But what about all of the other Phoebe Prince's in the world who still continue to be tortured by annonymous predators? Most of these young people do have have the coping skills to deal with such matters. Who and what is truly being done to protect these young people? The time has come for our national family to step up and demand action.
It is sad that the potentials for the Internet have been so soiled by those who have used the net for such unsavory purposes. I sincerely doubt that the owners of Facebook, MySpace others would impliment serious policies and a zero tolerance policy regarding cyber bullying. Hopefully our government can create new policies to regulate and potect people of cyber bullying.
Several years ago a move began to encourage parents to monitor which sites their children could access and also to monitor all that which was being address to their children. Maybe we need to also encourage parents to monitor what their children are publishing on their Facebook, My Space and Blogs.
Most anonymous blogger bullies love the attention from the feedback they generate. It is part of their illness.
Until such time when regulations are enacted to protect us from the sickness of cyber bullies, the best we can do is to ignore the bullies. Once bullies realize that their sites are being ignored - we take back control in our lives.
I pray that we won't have to bury any more of our children until such needed regulations are enacted.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
+James Alan Wilkowski
Evangelical Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of the Northwest
Presiding Bishop for the Evangelical Catholic Church