Words still hurt, even on a cell | PostIndependent.com

Words still hurt, even on a cell

Remember the notes that used to slide back and forth across the aisle with sleight of hand so as not to be detected by the teacher?

“Do you want to spend the night? Check one: Yes No.” or “Doug says he likes you,” surrounded by smiley faces and swirly hearts. These are the kinds of middle school notes I recall. They usually came from a friend, rarely a foe, and if one anonymously appeared in your locker, chances were pretty good you could identify the handwriting.

Kids today are not so lucky.

Picture this scenario: In the middle of class a student’s phone vibrates (they’re smart enough to turn the ringer off so the phone won’t be confiscated by a teacher) and when she flips open the fancy front she may well be greeted with a text message that reads: “Everybody in school hates you.” Bam. No sleight of hand, no signature, no handwriting to identify. Just hateful, hurtful words. And devastation. Cyber-Bullying is rampant in middle schools across the country.

When confronted with this information, parents say it’s not that big a deal; it’s just what kids do, and it’s no different than the notes scribbled and passed across the aisle when we were kids. They protest that they don’t want to be made to feel bad for providing a phone for their children so they can call after soccer practice or from the ski slopes or to check in from the sleepover. And they shouldn’t feel bad. They should feel responsible.

Technology at the hands of adolescents can be weapons of mass destruction. Nowadays, kids use cell phones to text message in their nasty notes; they send disparaging photos that pop up with a happy ring tone; they instant message hurtful messages to each other late at night when they should be studying or even sleeping. And they’re getting away with it.

They’re getting away with it in part because they are the sole proprietor of their cell phone. Phone rings, kid answers. No parent to ask, “Who’s calling, please?” or to say, “I’m sorry, she’s working on homework now, can she call you back?” They’re getting away with it because the computer sits in a downstairs bedroom and they’re allowed total access, rather than sitting in a busy part of the home with a parent to look over their shoulder once in a while. They’re getting away with it because they’ve learned they can.

Throwing punches on the playground has almost been replaced with throwing words around the Internet. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” may have been appropriate for our generation, but it smacks of dishonesty now.

Words do hurt. They wreak havoc.

Yes, there was bullying when we grew up, but does that make it a right of passage? I’d like to think we can teach our children to do better.

Charla Belinski teaches the parenting course Redirecting Children’s Behavior. Her column appears every other Sunday in the Post Independent.

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