Cyberbullying for Adults "Talk of the Town"

  • Mike McCurry
  • 03/18/15
From Mike McCurry’s “Talk of the Town” column in The Clarendon Courier March 19, 2015
Last year, I attended a seminar on bullying at Prospect Elementary School. The Clarendon Hills police department paid for the program, in which Officer Bean educated parents on safety measures to protect our children from cyberbullying.
Of course, it’s no secret that bullying is a pervasive problem in our schools today. Usually it starts with one child — a ringleader who has some petty issue with the victim or maybe is just plain bored. This person encourages other children to jump in on the fun, and before long “the fun” has become a very unfair fight for the person being bullied.
Today’s technology adds a whole new element to the phenomenon. Thanks to social media, what would have been a single, isolated incident can spread through a school like wildfire blowing through a forest. When the Internet is involved, a child can be transformed from a classmate to an outcast in a single day. This is the incredible destructive power of cyberbullying.
Sadly, I saw that phenomenon in action recently when my wife, Amy, began running for our local school board. I initially Googled her name to see if her website was being picked up by the search engine. But to my surprise, I found some negative comments posted about her — and me — on a parent-run blog.
Some of the blog’s posts and comments seemed sincere, informed and productive … but many of them weren’t. In fact, many of them were unfounded, vicious attacks on her character, experience and intelligence. A few of them were even wild accusations and conspiracy theories about my affiliation with The Hinsdalean.
One thing that most of the vitriolic posts had in common was the author — or so it would seem. While the various comments had been written by different people, most of the hurtful ones all shared the same byline: “Anonymous.”
What is the motivation for posting an anonymous comment? Well, in some countries, the anonymity of the Internet protects human rights activists from tyrannical regimes or violent terrorists. In others, posting as Anonymous protects the posters from severe punishments imposed upon those who use government-prohibited sites.
Somehow, I don’t think those descriptions apply to our our affluent suburban school district, do you?
What’s in a name? A signature? A byline? In my world, signing your name to something means you stand behind it. It means you approve, without reservation, of the message you’re sending. It means that you’re willing to be held personally responsible for the information you’re providing … that the words you’ve written are something you can be proud of, regardless of who reads them.
If that’s the case, what does it mean to be anonymous?
There are those in our community who say, “Anything’s fair game when we’re fighting for our children’s education.” But I would remind those people — those fellow parents — that our children’s education begins with us. They watch us, they learn from us, they mimic our behavior. And often, they turn out just like us … for better or for worse.
Shouldn’t we teach our children to debate important issues without hiding behind the mask of Internet anonymity? Shouldn’t we teach them to show respect to everyone — including those with whom they disagree? Open, honest debates teach our children to be individual learners and critical thinkers. Respectful, candid discussions (online, in print or in person) teach them to hold themselves accountable, producing and sharing ideas they can be proud to attach their names to.
But what about those children who, having been taught better, continue to share only vitriol? What about those whose contributions are so vicious and/or inaccurate that they can only be shared when nobody knows who shared them?
Well, even my eleven-year-old knows what to call those kids. (It begins with the letter B.)
Mike is a Clarendon Hills resident; husband; Indian Princes; Indian Guide Dad;  a Coach; an “old” football player and a real estate broker.  Mike’s columns are usually crafted about the buzz in and around the area.  It sometimes has a spin on real estate or cultural information, highlight a new business or announce school happenings.  He might include a “get-to-know” about some of our interesting residents and even a little about history. Whatever it is, it is sure to be about the “Talk of the Town”.

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