August 15, 2013

Let's Talk about Cyber Bullies

I finished school long before that days when every human in America started keeping a video camera in their pocket at all times, so when I listen to people debate what laws should or shouldn't be put in place to protect kids from cyber bullying, I'm as compassionate as you can be when you've never had a personal experience with the issue at hand.  But tonight I had an in-person confrontation with a mommy cyber bully and the experience left me feeling like standing up to her wasn't enough.

While we waited for Hannah Jane's gymnastics class to get out, a teenager with a significant developmental delay, who is a sibling of one of her classmates, came into the lobby and began slamming his head into the glass wall and wandering around making unusual sounds.  No big deal, right?  But then I noticed that a mom and her teenage son who were also in the waiting room were laughing and making jokes about him.  Then I saw that the mom had pulled out her phone and was not very discreetly making a video of this boy.  When he wandered behind her, she held the phone up over her shoulder to continue filming him.  It was a long video, and I head her say, "This is nuts!  What are you going to do with this?" to her teenage son, to which he added that he hadn't decided yet, but it was "too good."  

My knees were shaking and I ran through my head all of the things that I could say, and whether or not to say them out loud, or in front of her kids, or to the gym manager.  I was so stunned that I couldn't decide.  Something needed to be done, but I hadn't prepared myself for this sort of ridiculousness.  From a mother, no less!  I always assume that when I see injustice, I'll know how to stand up to it.  But I found that I didn't have a clue as to what to do. She's not breaking the law, so it's not like I can tattle to Big Brother.  And calling her out in public seemed equally mean on my part.  But someone had to do something and it looked like I was the only person noticing what was going on.

Just as I decided to walk over and say something, the boys mom walked in and it appeared that the moms knew each other.  The boy's mom said hi to the bully mom and the bully mom said, "We haven't seen you in so long!"  She was being nice to this kid's mom while a cruel video of him was tucked in her pocket waiting to be posted to her son's facebook.  The kids were now streaming out of class and families were leaving the building.  This was my only chance, so as we left, I leaned in close to her and said, "You're a mother.  I hope you know how disgusting it would be to share that."  She smiled and shook her head and said, "I know," in a way that said, I know I shouldn't, but it's just too good to pass up on.  She acted like anyone who saw it couldn't help but be entertained at this kid's expense.  She still thought it was funny.  Had I not been clear?  So I went on, a little louder as we diverged and I ushered my kids toward our car, "He's somebody's kid.  I can't believe a mother could be so cruel.  You're disgusting."  Honestly, I've never just looked at someone and called them disgusting.  Never!

Haven asked me, as I boosted him into the truck, "What did you say to that lady?  What is going on?"  I didn't want to rehash it.  I certainly wasn't proud of calling names in a parking lot.  I just wanted to leave before I lost my mind.  I sat at the pizza place just playing through my head what more I could have or should have done, how I was going to face her in gymnastics after that, and if I had any obligation to tell the boy's mother next week that this other mother has a horrible video of her son that she's planning to hand over to her teenager to share online.  I still haven't decided what the right thing is.  Any suggestions?  

So really, what is justice in the cyber bully world?  I know the gym can't be expected to regulate a parent's every move while they're in the building, nor can any school or mall or business.  But where is this person's humanity?  Who's protecting that poor boy's dignity?  Is saying something to her enough?  Did I do my part just telling her it's disgusting?  I want to think so, but I'm pretty sure that it's not actually enough.  I don't know what is enough, but watching her laugh it off just didn't seem right.  I know there's no law against being mean, even when you're a mom.  But shouldn't there be some sort of penalty for filming someone else's child with malicious intent?  Or any aged disabled person?  Or maybe we don't count on there being a law and penalty for every little cruelty, because we count on private individuals standing up for the most vulnerable among them.  But then I'm back to, what's the individual to do?  What's punitive enough to make her think twice next time, without crossing into mean and vindictive behavior myself?  

I have no answer.  But seeing a mother laugh with her son as they planned to humiliate this kid online made me feel a very real sense of injustice.  Publicly shaming her didn't feel like enough.  I don't know what the law should be, but I'm thinking very seriously about what our obligations are as individuals to protect people when we see this happening.  If you have insights into this issue, I'd love to hear them.  

5 comments:

  1. How sad :-( :-( I don't have any answers but I think it is really brave that you stood up to her. It is very scary how information - visual and otherwise - can be used on the internet today.

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  2. Skyla, I'm so glad for your bravery and willingness to share. You did what you could, and you were a positive role model for your kids, even if you didn't rehash the story. I don't think there is much more you can or should do unless you want to watch for the video and then report it to the mom. Being a former principal, I would be inclined to make sure you stand your ground and glare the next time you see the bully mom. Usually, they are big cowards. I think the world is only better because of people who are willing to label right and wrong behavior. Hugs.

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    1. Thanks, Robin. The standing my ground is pretty good advice. I usually drop her off, but I might stay next week just to make sure she doesn't end up a target for this mom now that I've scorned her. After this week, they shuffle classes for fall schedule and with any luck, I won't have to see her anymore. And I did rehash it for Hannah Jane later because she's old enough to get the lesson. The boys might just take is as a license to point at people in parking lots and yell, "You're disgusting!" I didn't know you were a principal! That's got to be the hardest job ever!

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  3. Rebecca15.8.13

    Maybe you should have filmed the bully mom while she was filming the disabled kid and then ask her how she would feel if you showed that video to others! Disgusting is right! Good for you for saying something.

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  4. @ Rebecca that was the answer I came up with from the safety of plenty of time to think and 1000+ miles away. It might have made an impact though. Good for you Skyla, to say anything is a step in the direction of stopping the oppressor and protecting the poor amoungst us.
    Will be interesting how this affects her and her response to you later.

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