Clearly the issue of cyberbullying has never been more important as it is for this generation of young adults. Their ability to interact with each other besides face-to-face is much more accessible, and certainly reaches way beyond the length of the school day or the protection of their homes. Even late into the evening via their computer, iPhones, iPads, or other tech gadgets, they have conversations and interactions which are unmonitored and unnoticed by parents or guardians. The loss of control can happen very quickly in a very short amount of time leading to unfortunate miscommunications.
As an educator who has worked with middle school age children primarily, it is easy to see the transformation that occurs with students from elementary to middle school. The way they interact with each other begins to change especially from 5th grade to 7th grade. On the outside looking in, many of those changes can be seen as biological and as a natural process of their growth. True enough, but the socialization that also takes places is an adjustment from bodies that are at a variety of sizes and shapes, to the girls/boys who are beginning to seek relationship interests that go beyond friendship, to the pairing off of the “cool” kids or the even the idea of “cool” vs. what is considered the complete opposite which in many cases is determined by the media.
Being in the middle is hard. This time of transition is still for many of us considered some of the most painful times of our lives. Many wounds inflicted in middle and high school years can still be present as adults. It changes the course of who we were or wanted to become or even believed about our peers and ourselves. The confidence that came as an elementary school kid where you thought, “you ruled the world,” changes.
Parents will often tell me that they don’t know what happened to their fun, loving daughter or son. Now, they have a sullen teenager who doesn’t want to interact with them or have any form of meaningful conversation. Here is the crux, because this is when parents, guardians, and trustworthy adults are most needed. There are hurdles that must be faced including how to deal with people. There may be a learning curve for adults because kids are different, harder to reach, and the technological gadgets are in the way. Insist on learning about them anyways.
The more involved you are and the more proactive you can be in a child’s life can turn the tides of pain inflicted by bullies whether online or off. At the very least, learn to see the changes and find out whether those changes are more than about natural growing pains vs. the pain of going through the passage to adulthood. Reaching out at that moment can alter the life of a child who feels incredibly neglected or depressed in an uncontrolled digitized world.
Belinha S. De Abreu, Ph.D., is a media literacy educator and the author of Media Literacy, Social Networking, and the Web 2.0 Environment for the K-12 Educator (2011). Her research interests include media literacy education, new media, visual and information literacy, global perspectives, critical thinking, teacher training, and the impact of learning as a result of media and technology consumed by K-12 students. Dr. De Abreu’s work has been featured in Cable in the Classroom and The Journal of Media Literacy.