Yesterday my morning routine took an unexpected detour. A discussion on the radio about a video capturing the bullying of a bus monitor caught my attention. I immediately grabbed my iPad and found the video in question. This now infamous video was shocking, disturbing and heartbreaking. To watch those Grade 7 boys harass, belittle and inflict such hatred on another human being was more than I could witness silently. The related videos were just as hard to watch. National television interviews with the victim, police statements, a school district response, and an apology from one of the boys’ fathers.
As a mother and a teacher my immediate reaction was to think about how this horrible incident could be used to educate my children. This very public event provides an opportunity to discuss two important lessons. The first lesson is about bullying. The video allows us to look into a bullying event and talk about the actions of the victim, the bullies and the bystanders. It is a very real look into something that is not often captured on tape.
I called my 11 and 8 year old to the kitchen table for a family meeting where I showed them clips from of all of the videos. The sat there in silence and horror. Then came their questions and a great conversation. We talked about bullying. We talked about the power of the internet to amplify bullying. We talked about the consequences of this bullying with included the police involvement, the harassment and threats that the boys are now receiving and how the actions of the bullies has brought shame to not only themselves but their families.
The second lesson that emerges from this event is digital footprint. The bullying was filmed, posted, reposted and has gone viral. Is is being watched by people around the world. It is the topic of conversations on the radio, on the television and now in my home. The boy who created this video no longer “owns” it, nor can he control what was being said about him and his friends. They are being called monsters, vile, evil and stupid among other very nasty things. They can not make this go away and in many ways are now the victims of bullying by media. These boys have created a digital footprint for themselves that is quite simply horrible and something that will be connected to them forever.
We talked about all of this at the breakfast table on a Friday morning. Was this my original plan for the morning? No. Was it an important discussion to have with my children? Yes. Teaching about bullying has always been part of the “job” of being a parent but teaching about digital footprint has not. Now it is a MUST. Our children live in a digital world that they navigate easily but without a full understanding of it’s power. Like all children they need parental guidance and support as they learn. Parenting in a digital world is not always easy or something we, as adults, fully understand but it is so important. For me this teaching lives in the conversations I have with my children when I stop to seize the moment.