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Cyberbullying: Avoiding Tragedies With a Community Cyber-Shield

The bottom line is that if you are old enough to be using social media, you need to be responsible for your conduct -- we're all held to the same standards as digital citizens.
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Society opens its eyes wide in the wake of tragedies, but oftentimes the issues aren't taken seriously before the fact. With the national media coverage of Rebecca Sedwick's suicide, and the subsequent arrest of two minors responsible for the aggravated stalking, is this possibly a tipping point in public awareness of cyberbullying?

As someone who knows firsthand the damages that cyberbullying can inflict, I certainly hope so. Cyberbullying and cyberstalking are explosive topics among all ages. We need to take notice of where defamation is trending online, and think about how we can do our absolute best to provide a safe digital arena.

Do we need tragedies to provoke dialogue?

Sharing kind, positive messages makes a tremendous difference in another person's life (image via MySecuritySign).

We don't. Plain and simple. We dedicate calendar months to put a spotlight on a plethora of causes, such as National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, National Cyber Safety Awareness Month, and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But because many people, especially parents, are consumed between their jobs and raising a family, it can be a challenge to add another focus to their list.

When their child brings home a sheet from school about National Bullying Prevention Month or gets an email with information regarding Cyber Safety Awareness Month, it might nudge them just enough to attend a workshop or event.

The bottom line is that if you are old enough to be using social media, you need to be responsible for your conduct -- we're all held to the same standards as digital citizens.

The argument that the two minors apprehended in Rebecca Sedwick's death aren't mature enough to be fully cognizant of the consequences of their actions may hold some weight; but in reality, nothing is excusable. According to the authorities, the harassment wasn't an isolated incident -- they relentlessly tormented and terrorized their victim.

What should happen to these young girls?

As I said in the Washington Post, I'm grateful that the sheriff is doing his job, and is taking the appropriate steps to get justice for Rebecca Sedwick. However, simply throwing these girls in jail is not the answer. It's about rehabilitating them.

An analogy I like to use is what DUI offenders often do -- share their stories with others to prevent intoxicated driving. These two girls, as well as the others (when the story was initially released, the sheriff stated there could've been as many as 15 girls involved in harassing Rebecca Sedwick), should be part of a campaign to promote kindness and help end bullying.

In my last few articles, I discussed how parents, teachers, and students can become cyber-shields in order to protect and lift each other up when they see someone struggling. The most important thing we can do is foster kindness throughout every aspect of our existence -- from home life, to the classroom, to school lunchrooms, and into cyberspace.

Considering the two suspects, many are pointing fingers at their parents. Are they worthy of blame?

Parenting today can be a challenge. Instilling empathy in our kids is absolutely imperative -- especially when making the decision on whether or not a child is mature enough to have a cell phone and access to the Internet.

If only two of the 15 girls decided to be upstanders, and say nice words to Rebecca instead of tearing her down -- if only two of them had been armed with cyber-shields, maybe the situation would have played out differently. Unfortunately, we will never know.

Go the distance for your community.

For a second year, our county is determined to educate students, parents, teachers and the entire community about keeping our families safer both online and off.

St. Johns County's Community Empowerment Series is sponsored by local businesses and organizations to bring in national speakers and authors for talks about topics that are crucial to our society. Counties across the country could benefit from implementing a series of their own. Programming is free to the public, and provides an opportunity for local residents to learn about bullying, cyberbullying, stranger danger, body image, and cyber safety from renowned experts.

Creating another cyber-shield in your community completes the circle of parents, teachers, and peers. Having a well-rounded approach is crucial to spreading awareness of the problems that affect our youth today.

Takeaway tips:

• Be a proactive constituent. Start planning a Community Empowerment Series in your county.
• Parents: you are your child's role model. Lead by example. They are watching.
• Be CyberWise. Take the time to learn about the new social networks your kids are using.
• Inspire kindness. Visit My Kindness Counts, and bookmark it.
• Help willUstand. Place your footprint against bullying -- every voice counts.

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