Flame wars present problems to schools and parents

It used to be that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

School officials walk a tightrope to protect victims without trampling the free-speech rights of bullies — many of whom operate anonymously.

Experts in face-to-face bullying, meanwhile, are devising new strategies to cope with the Internet’s impact. They advocate workshops for education and community leaders to detect and respond to the problem, tutorials on how technology influences behavior, and a grounding in legal issues.

Ultimately, they say, kids need to be sensitized to the sting of being bullied. “There are ongoing ways for kids to hurt each other,” says folk singer Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and founder of Operation Respect, a non-profit that teaches tolerance in schools. “If it isn’t the Internet, it’s reality TV or something else.”

The best advice for cyberbully victims is to get parents and school officials involved as soon as possible and not suffer in silence, NOVA’s Worthington says. Fighting back only engages bullies, who want a reaction. “Handling bullying online is different than staring down someone in the schoolyard and asking them to stop,” she says.

The encouraging news is that more students, parents and administrators are learning about — and coping with — the newest form of bullying.

“Maybe we’re less tolerant of people being pushed around,” O’Brien says. “We used to tell kids to get over it, that boys will be boys. But there can be long-lasting scars that sometimes result in violence if we ignore this.”
[Jon Swartz; Schoolyard bullies get nastier online; USA Today; 7mr05]

At times it seems that we are in the age of aggrieved offense. People take offense at a cop eating a banana, the Ten Commandments anywhere within sight of public property, the pledge of alliegance, and Lord knows what else.

But there is always a matter of responsibility to go with the right of free speech. It appears that electronic communications provide a distancing or an anonymity that seems to free people to loose sight of civility and brings out the worst.

Children need to be taught the old wisdom to learn tolerance and to learn that their feelings are their own. But then, we cannot ignore the damage done by indiscriminate yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater or other asocial behavior.

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