Joanne Hart There are things in the world that don't have much impact until they happen to you directly, or until they happen to your children.
Much has been said about bullying and cyber-bullying over the last few years – so much that one would imagine that people would have got it straight by now. You know, the way we stopped hitchhiking two generations ago because we suddenly collectively GOT IT – jumping into a high-speed and lockable metal capsule with a total stranger is dangerous. And we learnt not to do this without the benefit of social networking.
What I'm wondering here is: how long will it take us to have a collective epiphany about giving our 9-year-olds the keys to cyber-Ferraris and letting them drive unescorted down internet-highways?
Someone that I know has a sensible approach to the "everybody-ELSE-is-on-Facebook" dilemma – her response is simple: "OK, we'll open you a profile, but I get to look at it every day". After the obligatory wriggling and cries of "but no-one ELSE'S mom is looking at THEIR Facebook…!", an agreement is reached and the account set up.
All is fine and fun until the normal sort of spat that flares between those twittering terrorists, ten-year-old girls, spills over into cyberworld.
You know what those fights are about. They're timeless - a new kid appears and threatens the "we'll be bffs (best friends forever)" order, or someone doesn't invite someone or get invited to something and, voila, suddenly the victim is being ignored in the passage at school, the aggressors are making loud and OTT shows of happiness and togetherness whenever the victim appears – all the pointless and heartbreaking stuff that girls (little and big) do to each other.
And, other than moving to another school or neighbourhood, the only way to deal with this is to live through it until it all passes (usually because some other hapless kid becomes the target).
It's always been that way, but due to social networking, the potential for serious damage has escalated. All the nonsense and misspelt swearwords that would have made their way around the classroom on folded bits of paper (unless intercepted by the teacher, and then some faces would be red!) now get posted on Facebook walls.
And this kind of graffiti can't be obliterated with sugar soap or a few coats of paint. Unless deleted everywhere, the uncorroborated statement that "Prunella Stockingsfox is an efing bitsch" hangs in cyberspace on hundreds of walls for everyone to see.
What's the answer?
Parents. That's the long and the short of it. There's no government agency, no school body or courthouse that is going to log on every day and check whether your ten-year-old is being vilified across the world, or leading a cyber-mob to crush some other kid. By the time an outside authority or another parent gets involved, the damage will have been done, and sometimes that damage is tragic and permanent.
We are the first generation of parents that have to protect our children in a world without walls or doors, and part of our job is constant vigilance.
Teen Facebook sex talk worrying
Age of Facebook rage
Children on Facebook
(Joanne Hart, Health24, July 2010)