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Sightings: A Bully On A Limestone Playground

Many years ago at my elementary school there was a large playground that daily claimed the knees and ankles of the pre-teen kids during the 20 minutes of recess afforded them by the Charity nuns. The rough crushed limestone pavement and pitted grassy area where cows once grazed were all we knew. Thoughts of freshly mowed baseball fields and smooth basketball courts were fodder for far wealthier kids than us.

Those 20 minutes were a “welcome escape” from the generally hot and muggy classrooms that wreaked of adolescent sweat by 11:00am each day. This was an era where air conditioning was mostly a foreign concept outside of department stores and restaurants.

“Welcome escape” was likely on the minds of every student at the school as recess time grew near. Unless of course there was “a sighting.”

You see, during this same period, on this same playground there was a bully who we’ll call “George.” Just the mere sighting of George would send kids scurrying to the other end of the playground lest they become his prey.

One day, a student who I’ll call “John” fell victim to “George.” His head was punched several times while his face was roughly ground into the coarse surface of the limestone playground.

George was in the 7th grade – but was almost 14 years old – having “stuck” a couple times due to poor academic performance and discipline problems. He was our version of the Fonz – sans that cool hair, Harley and penchant to hang out with nerds.
John on the other hand was small for his age, pale, wore thick rimmed glasses and was the definition of a nerd.

Following the beating, George was expelled from school and John returned home safe and sound, albeit with a black eye, broken glasses and ego. However, aside from the temporary physical scars — the incident was over with little possibility of a reoccurrence.

If we fast forward to 2012 – the incident might look much different.

George sends a threatening text message to John during recess. He then again posts negative comments and “faked” photos concerning John on Facebook. The comments are read and seen by some of George’s friends and forwarded to others. The messages continue – eventually evolving into a Facebook “event invite” to several of George’s friends asking them to ambush and “kill” John on the way home from school.

Sound implausible? Well, with the exception of the names – both stories are true.

Prior to social media technology and the ubiquitous presence of mobile phones with teens and pre-teens, school yard bullying existed with every generation. Generally, the fights were nothing more than name-calling and shoving – with the occasional sucker punch to the jaw. However, when the kids returned home they found a safe harbor from all of the insanity that comprises the life of teens who are finding their place in life.

I was presenting in February of this year to a group of high school students. Following the conclusion of my talk a young man from the school’s wrestling team thanked me for the information and then said, “It’s true.”

I asked him what he meant by the words, “It’s true.” He replied, “With Facebook and cell phones we are never out of touch with friends – and those people that aren’t your friends.” He then went on to tell me how he was ambushed after school one day by a group of students that had been invited to “kill” him. While I doubt their actual intent was to kill the young man, they no doubt had every intent to do him physical harm.

Fortunately, a teacher that was stopping at a local restaurant saw a group of angry teens circling this student. He distracted them long enough for the young man to run to a McDonald’s restaurant until he could be escorted home safely.
While this is an extreme example of cyber bullying, the underlying process is repeated daily in every city across the country. While few kids are seeking to do physical harm to one another, the intent to embarrass, harass and otherwise make someone’s life miserable happens all too often.

In another presentation in September of 2011, at a small Kentucky school, the principal told me of a 6th grade girl that assumed the identity of a classmate – and created a fake Facebook page using that identity. She found a pornographic video that contained a girl that looked similar to the student whose identity she had stolen. She uploaded the video to the Facebook page — and sent links to her other classmates under that girl’s name.

As you can imagine, the video and Facebook page humiliated the young girl whose identity had been a hijacked. She could not find the strength to go back to school for several days – fearing that everyone thought the girl in the video was her.
Given the choice, I think most of us would rather succumb to the punch in the head that “John” endured rather than face the embarrassment and humiliation of a video that in reality might exist forever.

Still another such instance occurred in January. A high school girl stole a document containing the name and logo of her school. Posing as a teacher, she wrote some very unflattering words with strong sexual content concerning the behavior of a specific student. She then scanned the document with the forged message and school logo and placed it on her own Facebook page.
Since the parents of that school regularly scoured Facebook to monitor their children, it was quickly found and deleted. The girl was punished, but the document containing the other student’s name and purported sexual activity had been copied so many times, it remains the number one image search on Google when a certain two word search is conducted.

These are indeed different times that require different parenting techniques.

To assist parents, we recently forged a new partnership with uKnowkids.com to give parents the tools required to protect their children in this digital world.

Check out the statistics related to cyberbullying as provided by uKnowkids.com on this link.

Also, the story that was the genesis for the development of our school speakers program related to the use of social media was that of Jessica Logan – a teen that had sent a naked photo of herself to her boyfriend. Following their breakup, he sent the photo to his friends – who in turn ultimately sent it to hundreds of others. Unable to deal with the humiliation, bullying and name-calling, Jessica ended her life. This link is her story as told by her mother.

It’s a story from which we all can learn. Parenting today requires vigilance and skills that no other generation of parents has experienced. Hopefully through this blog and that of others, we can better protect each generation of children as technology continues to evolve.

I will leave you today with these tips from uKnowKids:

1) Set a good example: Kids learn from everything you do and will mirror your every action.
Talk about it before it happens: Make sure your child is prepared to identify cyberbullying and knows how to deal with an incident should it occur.

2) When you see it, address it: Whether it is bullying in your house or on your computer, if you discover a situation where your child is being bullied or bullying another child, it is your responsibility to intervene and stop it.

3) Talk about your “house rules”: What happens if your child gets caught being a cyberbully? Would you consider an amnesty policy for encouraging your child to tell you when something is wrong? Think about your “house rules” and discuss them with your whole family so everyone plays by the same rules.

4) Use a Parental Intelligence System: At the very least you should monitor your children’s social media accounts. Some parents choose to “friend” their child but with privacy settings, kids can easily block what mom and dad see.

So as you can see, things have changed radically for mom, dad and the children of today. That playground of my youth in which George did battle with John’s head — still exists today. The crushed limestone pavement was replaced with freshly rolled and smooth asphalt. The roughly pitted grass and weeds that surrounded the area is now beautifully landscaped with a thick manicured carpet of green grass. However, in some respects — the days of skinned knees, twisted ankles and the occasional “George” sightings seem much less daunting than the issues of today.

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