Friday, November 30, 2007

Aren't we friends on MySpace?

I grew up knowing what a bully was, and who the bullies were - both in my neighborhood and in school. I tried to avoid them, whenever possible, and learned to stay off their radar in general. I wasn't always successful, but usually found new ways to walk home, or which halls in school to avoid. The type of bullying changed as I went through school. In elementary school and junior high, the bullies were those hulking boys who were too big (and often too old) for their own good. Sometimes, they were girls who were too big (in other places) and too old for their own good. In high school, the bullies were often the more popular kids, who found great humor in putting down those of us (and yes, I was not that popular in high school) who were somehow lacking in the social graces (or in the bustline, or in the ....whatever. You can fill in the blanks)

As my own children were going through middle school and high school, the bullies began appear. This time, however, they were more technological...they were cyber-bullies. MySpace started out as a nice little social application, where my sons could chat with friends and share interests. They could meet girls, and could keep in touch with students from other schools. Slowly, I started hearing about kids saying terrible things about each other, using MySpace and Instant Message. My youngest son experienced quite a few episodes of cyber-bullying in high school. He learned very quickly how to block messages from those who were trying to pick fights, or say nasty things about him. (I'm sure there were those who chose to block him, as well. I was born at night - but not last night)

Anyway - I wrote previously about a fight that broke out in the hallway right outside my classroom door. Turns out, it was precipitated by some MySpace interactions. The weekend before the incident, one boy started messaging the other - making threats, calling names, casting aspersions. Of course, the other boy responded in kind. Eventually, they agreed to fight when they got to school on Monday. One boy proclaimed he was going to 'f**kin' kill' the other. So, when they got to school, they started looking for each other. They found each other outside my classroom, and fought.

How do I know all this? Because I just left a meeting where we read the back and forth emails that started the fighting. Horrible language. Violent talk. Over nothing. As a result, several teachers are hurt (I think there have been at least 3 worker's comp filings from this fight), one boy is being charged with a felony for threatening the kill the other, and both boys may be facing expulsion from school. All because they had unsupervised access to computers, and had nothing better to do than post threatening messages to each other.

They never learned to find a new way home, or a way to avoid each other in the halls. And no one ever showed them how to block someone on MySpace.

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