Thanks to Emily Bazelon's excellent article in Slate, "How Not To Prevent Cyberbullying," I just watched "Cyber-bullying" a PSA video presented by the American Bar Association, with the endorsement of Microsoft, Time Warner Inc., and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, among others. It's amazing. In four minutes, it manages to not only be laughably stereotypical, but send the message that suicide is the best revenge against bullies.
Here are the top 10 reasons I hate this video and why it makes my job as a bullying prevention educator more difficult:
It comes across like an after-school special from 1985 -- stilted and condescending to the viewer's intelligence. It opens with a teen actor earnestly telling us, "Bullying is not right, it's not cool." It reminds me of the "just say no" drug prevention campaign (again 1980s) and we all know how successful that was.
The acting is horrible. But you can forgive the actors because of the ridiculous dialogue they were given.
Case in point: the bullies use bad words gratuitously. "Fat, pig, slut" is their favorite phrase, which by the way I have never heard girls use in combination because frankly it's not smart enough.
The way in which the "mean girls" cyber-bully is unrealistic and outdated, such as creating a website to bully their victim. Ask any teen, kids stopped creating websites like this in about 2004.
The mean girls and everyone else in the school find out about the victim committing suicide because the principal announces it over the intercom. It'd be laughable if it wasn't so ridiculous, and puts in to question the producer's and advisers' (Did people from the Department of Education really review this?) knowledge of schools.
Immediately after this announcement, the "authorities," aka, men in suits representing some kind of government agency, walk into the classroom and take the "mean girls" away.
The message of the video is not, "don't bully". Instead it is suicide as a revenge fantasy. When people bully you, if you commit suicide then everyone who tormented you will either feel guilty or be taken away by men in dark suits. To where? Mean Girls Prison?
This PSA fails to grasp the complexity of teen society by showing the entire student body joining in with the "mean girls." While certainly some would join them, other kids would hate what was happening, but be too afraid to say anything, and some would try to defend her.
But the top reason I hate this video? This is a collaboration by a consortium of some of the most powerful and influential corporations and government agencies in the world. They have the ability to do a tremendous amount of good on this topic. Instead, they have produced one of the most counter-productive bullying measures I have seen.
And we wonder why teens blow us off when we talk about bullying? We are surprised when they won't come forward and report bullying? Would you trust us (adults) if you were them and this was the advice you were getting?
We need to do better. I want to see the adults who are responsible for this, hold themselves accountable, and try again. Give kids the tools and guidance they deserve. But don't take my word for it. Watch the video, decide for yourself, and contact the American Bar Association and tell them what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (202) 662-1000.