culture shockers: Is the internet killing our kids?

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

One year ago 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hung himself after months of daily bullying at school, including repeated taunts of him being gay. The incessant bullying that pushed Carl to commit suicide had continued at his school in spite of his mother’s repeated pleas to the school’s higher-ups to deal with the problem.

Later that month, another 11 year old boy, Jaheem Herrera, hung himself after months of homophobic taunts and repeated bullying at his elementary school. Since their deaths, their mothers (and many others) have been involved in a campaign to get Congress to pass legislation that would make anti-bullying policies mandatory in all schools across the United States.

Adding greatly to the enormous problem of adolescent suicides over the past few years is the increasing hand that technology and the internet has in these deaths- the phenomenon that has come to be known as “Cyberbullying.”

In January, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She had recently moved there from Ireland and since the move, she had been subjected to harassment, ridicule and intense bullying from her peers. The group of girls that had decided to “put her in her place” had targeted her mainly through text messages and Facebook, calling her names like “Irish slut” and tormenting her about her dating a senior football player from the school. And this chilling story doesn’t stop at her death. The day after she died, someone posted “We killed Phoebe Prince” on Facebook, driving home the frightening ways that cyberspace has taken bullying to the next level.

Technology plays a monumental role in the lives of all of us today, and the power that it has on the lives of impressionable and vulnerable adolescents is as awe-inspiring as it is frightening. For 18-year-old Constance McMillen, it has been a mixed bag. A resident of a small town in ‘bible-belt’ Mississippi, Constance has been a victim of bullying since she identified as lesbian in eighth grade. A month ago, Constance hit the headlines when she announced her plan to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend as her date to her school prom. Revealing the deeply conservative values of the deep South, the school disallowed her from doing so. Once the ACLU got involved, the school decided to cancel the event, but then rescheduled and ended up sending her to a fake prom. As expected, while these events unfolded in the real world, they have received a lot of attention online, and in addition to receiving support, those opposed to her have taken the cowardly Facebook-route to voice their opinion with a page entitled “Constance quit yer cryin.”

Peer-pressure and bullying in the form of verbal and psychological abuse is an age-old phenomenon amongst pre-teens and adolescents. But the use of technology by tweens and teens extends the threat in a way that is extremely disturbing and ominous. While legislation would definitely force schools to stand up to the issue, the dark truth is that the cyber-frenzy that has taken us over has compounded the problem of bullying and taken it to a level that is further out of the reach of institutional control. By no means are we saying that institutions do not need to take responsibility for this situation which has spiraled out of control in the last few years. We are saying that at this point, legislation in schools is not enough. This is a systemic problem that needs to be understood as such and addressed by the community as a whole.

There are sites and tools that have come out as a result of and provide a space for sharing and learning about the problem and trying to deal with it. Here are some resources:

April 7, 2010 by ishita
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3 Responses to “culture shockers: Is the internet killing our kids?”

  • Ell says:

    Posted: April 12, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    I agree that the phenomenon is extant and severe, and has real results. What I disagree with is the slightness and partiality of the definition. We live in a fragmented society defined by its violence, conflict and competition. This is not a ‘theory’ it is an observable reality. How is it possible to look at school-age violence, in any form, restrict the definition to an aged moral label, and assume the behaviour is peculiar to ‘children’, throwing in the word systemic and site the lack of an institutional solution? Violence IS institutional and societal, evidence is everywhere. Children are taught to compete in violent terms and that this is the basis for their own ‘success’; teachers bully kids, kids bully other kids. If they’re unlucky they’ll be bullied by the police too. They turn on the TV or glance through a magazine, as adults do papers, and see violence and abuse, bullying if that is what it is to be called, from a world at war to the latest sex-shamed celeb, and walk streets laden with ads shaming geeks and poofs and prostitution to sell them their physical junk food. A quick glance at history illustrates that the problem, kids or not, is hardly new. So much for institutional solutions, clearly the ‘institution’ of society is a big part of the problem; in which case the solution is going to have to be somewhat more radical than ‘cyberbullying’ implies, a society where he terms kids act through are something other than ‘good business’ for the corporations that now half-run the schools and already run the media they consume. If only someone has the guts to admit it.

  • Ell says:

    Posted: April 12, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    I’d also add, if you want the concise version of the same: you get what you pay for.

  • Ell says:

    Posted: April 12, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    Remember McCarthyism? Massibe bullying. Scientology has been known for it, lots of bullying going on there. Take a glance through the average rag, more of the same. Prison is full of it, which is where you may end up if the experience damages you enough to produce something unacceptable to ‘the law’. Racism and homophobia, young and old, it makes no difference. Didn’t they used to beat kids with canes in schools? Now they just use mobiles.

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