Contact: Dr. Brenda Hunter, Co-Author, From Santa to Sexting, 919-450-5773
CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Oct. 16, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- On October 15 two girls were charged with "aggravated stalking" -- a felony -- in the death of a 12-year-old girl who jumped to her death from a cement tower in central Florida. The persecutors were ages 12 and 14. As the grandmother of a 12-year old girl and as a psychologist who works with middle schoolers and their parents, I find this news heartbreaking.
When Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide, she had been bullied verbally and physically for two years. In addition, she was maliciously cyberbullied. The bullies told her to kill herself and to drink bleach. Her mother removed her from school, changed her cell phone number and her Facebook page, but the bullying continued online. After Rebecca's death, the 14-year-old posted on Facebook: "Yes, I bullied Rebecca, but I don't give a (expletive)."
How to understand this level of heartlessness? First, bullying is the result of a stark lack of empathy. Attachment research shows that empathy flows from a secure emotional bond with parents. Emotional security is acquired in infancy as a result of the way parents treat their child. When a mother or father comforts their distressed baby, he learns lessons about love and empathy. While empathy has a cognitive component that kicks in during early adolescence, attachment research shows that securely attached infants do not grow up to become either middle school bullies or victims.
Secondly, social media provides a mask for bullies which allows them to punish their victims out of sight but before a potentially vast audience. As Golding wrote in "Lord of the Flies," a novel about kids killing kids, "the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self consciousness." And this mask is pervasive. Not only need parents monitor their child's use of the Internet, cell phone, iPodTouch, iPad and instagram, but new apps are available, like Kik Messenger, ask.fm and Voxer that provide private one-on-one communication.
It's tough parenting kids well today.
What can a parent do? Know where your children are emotionally. Always. Be responsive and empathic. If necessary, become hypervigilant about the sophisticated electronic devices your kids use, and if they get out of hand, shut them down. Yes, shut the devices down. Remember, your job is to lovingly protect your kids. It will at times be exhausting, but you may save your child from a world of hurt.