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Through my lens…Volume 4

By: Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell

Bullies are insecure people who think they can build themselves up by tearing someone else – anyone else – down.  As an adult, I know that. . .  but when I was a kid, I didn’t.

Last week, I talked about cyber bullying and its effects on teenagers. . . But what about elementary school children?  Bullying is not new to elementary schools, and to some extent, it may be a part of growing up.  I don’t say it’s acceptable to bully anyone. . . Yet throughout life, we all have to deal with difficult people, and I think learning how to deal with a bully can help us with our communication and coping skills as adults.

What has changed since I was a kid is the explosion of the internet.  When I was a kid, my choices for occupying myself were limited. . . I could play in the woods, or I could watch TV – and I didn’t have 427 television channels to choose from.  Yes, times have changed, and children today grow up faster than we did.  Preschoolers know how to use their parents’ phones to play games or watch videos.  Every elementary school aged child can and does access the internet.  The ones who don’t have their own phones or tablets borrow a friend’s.  What is the allure of building a fort in the living room on a rainy day to a kid who has a virtual world at their fingertips?  And can “talk” to all their friends while building their virtual fort or designing their virtual house?  Because the virtual world is always accessible, children don’t have the after-school downtime that I had, the “release” from information for a while.  It is always there, which makes cyber bullying is easy, and because it is easy, elementary aged children are just as much a target as their older brothers and sisters.

According to the Cyber Bullying Research Center, 15 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 12 have been the target of cyber bullying, and three percent said they have cyber bullied someone else.  Most of the kids said they had not told their parents.  Cyber bullying among elementary age children leads to lowered self-esteem.  In turn, low self-esteem leads to substance abuse, anti-social behavior, delinquency, and suicide.

As parents, we have to protect our children, not only from being cyber bullied but also from becoming cyber bullies themselves.  We are their parents, not their friends, and part of being a parent is that they will sometimes think we are “mean.”  I’m okay with that.

So what do we do?  First and foremost, we have to talk to them.  That’s easier with the elementary aged ones than with the teenagers.  We have to know what they are doing on their phones or tablets or computers. . .  And this is the tough one: we have to pay attention to the example we set.  How much time do we spend on our phones?  Do we sit at the restaurant table with our family and not talk because we are all checking email or social media or internet shopping?  Do we try to share about our day and ask them about theirs?  Do we listen when our children talk?  Even during those times when they don’t like us much, our children pay attention to what we do and to the unspoken messages we send them.

The Bible tells us, “Children are a heritage from the Lord.”  It is our responsibility to “direct their paths” as they grow and to give them the tools they need to thrive in life.  We must both safeguard them and guide them, and in them, we will reap what we sow.