Recent death of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick has brought increased attention to the problem of cyberbullying
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Though we have all most likely said this catchy rhyme, the words could not be further from the truth. Words do actually hurt. And, as the nation has come to find following the death of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick, words can kill.
Now, a month after the Sept. 10 death of young Sedwick, cyberbullying has become a topic to add not only to our dictionaries, but potentially to our laws.
According to authorities, Sedwick died jumping from a third-story cement plant structure after having been bullied verbally and physically. The primary perpetrators, 12-year-old Kaitlyn Roman and 14-year-old Guadalupe Shaw, have been arrested in the death of their fellow classmate and charged with aggravated stalking.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was responsible for the arrest of the two girls. He later told CBS News that what the two girls did to Sedwick was “criminal because they terrorized her.”
I could not agree more. Adolescent or not, actions have consequences.
Facebook posts from the bullies included statements such as “you should die, you should drink bleach and die.” Shaw posted that “no one will ever know the truth” because Sedwick “went to hell” and wrote “yes IK I bullied REBECCA nd she killed herself but IDGAF.”
The initials mean, “I don’t give a (expletive).”
Judd has remained outspoken about his decision.
“She forced this arrest,” Judd said after Shaw’s shocking posts. “This went further than bullying. This was stalking. Interventions were tried by the school and by the victim’s mom to no avail. And that’s why we made felony criminal charges, because if this can’t be taken care of at home, certainly, the system has an answer.”
According to experts from the upcoming trial, this is the first time that stalking charges have been issued in relation to teen bullying. And though the arrests have certainly brought light to the gravity of bullying, these are only the first steps in the effort to resolve the problem of bullying.
Here is my question: where were the parents?
According to Judd, the parents involved in the case have remained uncooperative, arguing that there is no effective way to monitor or curtail online behavior. In essence, not only did they not know what their children were doing, but they also either did not care or were incapable of taking care of the situation.
Are ignorance and apathy a good enough excuse? According to parental liability laws, in any other case, negligence of a child would be criminal. If a child kills someone while operating a parent’s car, the parents can be held responsible. If a child kills someone with a parent’s gun, the parents can be held responsible.
So why, in this case, is operating a cell phone or computer given by a parent any different?
Parents need to realize that allowing children to access the Internet comes with incredible responsibility — and liability. Technology is a powerful tool, and as we have seen, it can be used to inflict harm. Just because the current generation of parents did not grow up with social media does not mean they are excused from educating themselves about it — even if for nothing else than for their children.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 78 percent of teens now have a cell phones. Ninety-five percent of teens use the Internet, and 93 percent of teens have access to a computer at home.
The risks are too high not to be informed about social media and about a child’s life online. More than cyberbullying programs or school initiatives, children need parents. First and foremost, a parent has a responsibility to raise and to guard. In cases like these, safety trumps privacy and parenting trumps friendship.
Though anti-bullying programs have the right intentions, children will most model what they see at home. Parent-to-child mentoring and online monitoring are the only real answers to the dilemma of virtual harassment and antagonization.
Emotional injury is as real as physical injury. Children need to learn that, although they can bully online in a detached, almost anonymous way, there will always be repercussions. As Proverbs 18:21 warns, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Our words and our actions have life and death consequences.
It is time for parents to be parents again and to protect their children, to get involved in their lives and to recognize there is a need for regulation in a platform as boundless as the virtual world.
Regardless of what the courts decide for Roman and Shaw, the girls will carry the tragedy that their words caused for the rest of their lives. Whether we believe it or not, our words do have power. Jesus himself warned of this in Matthew 12:36-37.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” Jesus said.
To teens who believe their words are inconsequential: Think about that the next time temptation arises to cut someone down. And to parents who are uninvolved: Think about the poor influence you are having on your children by not talking to them about their media habits.
Every careless word. There are no rewinds or take backs. And though forgiveness can be given, the harm that is inflicted is permanent. Think before you speak. Think before you post.