Editorial: Adults should set better examples about bullying

Recently, a videotape of schoolchildren from Orleans Elementary fighting was posted on Facebook.  Upon investigation, the school’s principal concluded that it wasn’t so much a case of targeted bullying, as some had suspected, as it was an argument, mostly amongst middle school kids.

However, the incident served to highlight the role social media plays in the lives of young people these days — and how adults can exacerbate a situation.

It also illustrated the increasing complexity of a world where media so thoroughly infiltrates the lives of young people that it’s hard to draw the line between what happens in school and what happens outside of it.  An incident that occurs outside of school but is publicly posted and viewed by schoolchildren — what territory does that lie in?

The issue is so complex and troubling that it would take more than the space we have on this page to delve into every aspect of it.  But there are two things we’d particularly like to mention here.

One doesn’t have to look far these days to see plenty of uncivil behavior.  “Watch TV, listen to talk shows, talk radio…people seem to be so much less civil,” said Andre Messier, principal of Lake Region Union High School.

We agree with him.

The federal government is certainly no example of civil discourse or respectful behavior.  Political and ideological differences turn into personal, often nasty and intimidating attacks.  News programs don’t deliver information in a calm or neutral fashion; many of them are little more than shouting matches.  Scorn, condescension, and polarity are far more prevalent than empathy, compassion, and respect.

In the age of You Tube, iPhones, iPads, Facebook, and vines, nearly anyone can put anything up for public view — tasteful or not, worth watching or not.  Shock value seems to be a goal, the ultimate goal being attention, we suppose.

And we don’t need the National Security Agency’s help with violating our privacy.  We seem to be pretty good at doing it ourselves.

One would think that, in such an atmosphere — which children are heavily exposed to — adults would set out to temper matters.  Instead, as in the Orleans incident, the opposite can happen.

“Basically, all of the adults turned into bullies themselves in the comments,” said Kristin Atwood, an Orleans School Board member who saw the boy’s video after a Facebook friend passed it on to her.  “The sharing of the video was really kind of incendiary, and the adults’ comments were often promoting violence against the student who’s accused of bullying,” Ms. Atwood said.

If a questionable video involving schoolchildren appears on Facebook, it seems to us that the appropriate course would be to bring the matter to the attention of school officials and leave it there.  “Sharing” the video and posting incendiary comments (behaving, in other words, like a bully) does not strike us as an ideal method for dealing with an online video posted by a kid about kids.

Posting something online rather than talking to a teacher or administrator can inflame a situation, but it won’t remedy it.  Kids may not know better; adults should.

So grownups:  Either get off Facebook, or limit your own behavior to the best of what you would expect from children.   If you deplore uncivil discourse and disrespectful behavior in children, don’t do such a good job of showing them how it’s done. — T.S.

For the Chronicle‘s story on bullying, click here.

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