• I just got back from an “emergency” assembly called by the principal and psychologist of my daughter’s school. It was for all the parents from her class (sixth grade) as they’ve recently had an epidemic of children who were bullying and ostracizing others via WhatsApp, SnapChat and other social media networks. It got so bad that children were afraid to come to school and genuinely feared for their safety. One parent even filed a police report, for criminal threats, when a child threatened to kill her daughter. Other children in the chat group never reported it. Once police officers showed up at school, the following day to investigate, the school decided to call this mandatory meeting. It had clearly gotten out of hand. All the previous complaints from parents and children didn’t get much attention since these were incidents occurring after school hours, which the school felt was out of their span of control.

    With the affordability and accessibility of Internet devices these days, kids are getting connected at a younger age. So, here we were with the principal and school psychologist asking us to block all Internet access from our children, in the grade, for the remainder of the school year. Side-bars erupted as disgruntled parents whispered to one-another. Then hands flew up around the assembly, as if they were handing out prizes. Parents were blurting out comments in rapid secession, challenging the principal and therapist to regain control. I hate raising my hand and drawing attention to myself at any of these events, so I sat back and watched the chaos unfold.

    Most of the questions revolved around how this was to be implemented, arguing that their children would never agree to it. I couldn’t believe my ears and after about 10 minutes of questions, I realized that the conversation was headed entirely in the wrong direction. These were 12 and 13 year old children whose parents were asking the school to make parenting decisions for them. First of all, it’s not their place and second of all, each child matures differently and accepts respnsibilty at a different age. The conversation went from bad to absurd very quickly, as parents began to blame the administration for not educating and disciplining their children enough regarding these issues. Then,  parents turned on each other, blaming their children for creating these chat groups and attacking others. It was a free for all of uncontrolled interruptions, blaming and angry parents. The administration had now lost control of the parents as well. At least now we know whee the kids get if from.

    They were negotiating a full moratorium of Internet use for their children and trying to uniformly tell us what to do with our children during after-school hours. How crazy is that? I’m far from the voice of reason, but I raised my hand and coughed loudly to get their attention. Finally the room got somewhat quiet, and I was call upon to speak. I was hoping the noise would continue to drown out my comments but no such luck. It’s not the Internet that’s bad people. It’s our parenting skills,” I said and stood up to explain. I don’t remember how I phrased it, but the gist of it went as follows: Internet is a resource tool, just like anything else (books, libraries, television etc.) for your kids to use. It depends on how they use it. Whether it be for good, to learn, or for bad, to hurt people. Our job is to teach them what’s appropriate and what’s not.

    The school can educate our children and warn them about Internet safety, but the onus is on us as parents to discipline and monitor our children. If they don’t’ use a tool properly, then they need to be corrected and face the consequences. Parents should block or put safeguards on their children’s Internet access as needed. However, it’s on an individual basis and should not be used to punish an entire class. That does not educate our children nor is it fair. Parents need to step up and accept the responsibility of parenting because that is not the school’s job. You should be teaching your children proper internet use and how to stand up to bullies (see our Playdate article Coping with Bullies). The younger your children learn these guidelines the better off they’ll be. Bullying is bullying regardless of the form that it’s in and if you’re not doing somethig to stop stop it then you’re contributing to it. At least with the Internet, we have written proof and a means of identifying and correcting the problem.

    After the meeting was done, I had several parents come up to me to tell me that they appreciated my comments while others weren’t as agreeable. Then, both the principal and school psychologist approached, and I have to admit that I was a little nervous thinking that I probably upset them. It turned out that they wanted me to know that none of the offenders (bullies) parents bothered to attend this meeting. And hence lies our problem. Some parents don’t care enough or are too selfish to be more involved in their children development and expect society to do the parenting for them!