Tech Fueling “Culture of Callousness”?

With the news last week out of Deerfield Beach, Florida of another brutal beating triggered by a text message, authorities like Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti are calling on the community and parents to address what he calls a “culture of callousness”.  In this latest incident, a 15-year-old girl was left in a comma after a teenage boy punched the girl and stomped her with steel-toed boots after a heated text exchange.

Just last year, five teens at the same school were charged with setting a classmate on fire. Despite drops in juvenile crime nationwide, some experts suggest savage attacks such as those in Deerfield could indicate a trend towards increasing violence when crimes are committed.  Psychology professor Michael Dwyer commented, “It’s not the usual boy beating up another boy.  There’s an unusual sort of hostility, and we’re seeing more of that.”

Author Rachel Simmons suggested on a Today Show interview about the Deerfield beating, that while these incidents go well beyond normal bullying, kids today do not have the skills to navigate conflict in a non-violent way.  Experts attribute increasing hostility to causes including stress at home, gruesome images from television shows and video games that can desensitize kids to brutality and the breakdown of the family.

I am sure many of us adults have experienced how communications can escalate from civil to irate in our “I don’t see you, you don’t see me” world.  As reporter Edward Achorn said in a recent article, “language that was once unimaginable in public discourse is the common currency of the web”.  This is why anti-cyberbullying Ad Council PSAs have suggested that “if you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, then don’t say it online.”

Writing on a different but relevant subject, blogger Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews suggests that as our kids navigate “both adolescence and the new media space, they need breathers, reality checks, a sense of balance and guidance”, and she reminds us that “tech and media don’t create drama, people do; rather, tech and media are drama-enhancers, -extenders, and –perpetrators”.

Technology can also be a drama-indicator and violence-preventer in a caring online community.  Peers, educators and parents should watch out for warning signs that could indicate that a teen is in distress or considering acting out in a violent or self-destructive way.  As Collier reminds us, positive reinforcement and involvement will do more to encourage healthy behaviors than taking away children’s access to media and technology.

In our Internet Safety 101 teaching series, we advise parents to:

  • Encourage your children to talk to you if anybody says or does something online that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. It’s important to stay calm and keep open lines of communication with your children. Make sure you or your children tell their school if the bullying is school related or involves another student. If you or your children are threatened with harm, contact your local police.
  • Watch for the warning signs of being cyberbullied, such as reluctance to use the computer, a change in your child’s behavior and mood, or reluctance to go to school.
  • Tell your children to guard their contact information. Children should assume that people will use the information they post online to cause them harm. Remind your children that the people they communicate with and befriend online have open access to ALL of their posted content and information, and they can forward or use any of that information against them.
  • Remind your children that those who bully want to make their victims feel as if there is something wrong with them, but victims should know that there is nothing wrong with them; it is the bullies who have the real problem.
  • Teach your children The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

For more information about cyberbullying, see our cyberbullying section on our site.

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