Take the byte out of bullying and be glad our antics weren’t documented

With anti-bullying day recently behind us, I have to wonder if we’ve really achieved all that much in light of a story I heard recently.

Here’s the story: a mother was called by her daughter’s teacher about an emergency with her daughter. Mom was panic-stricken, but the school told her not to worry as her daughter was not hurt. Mom was told that it was a different kind of emergency: her daughter had sent a mildly inappropriate photo to a boy, and the police were involved.

Mom called dad, and together, they arrived at the school to find their young daughter crying and horrified. It was then that they found out that because she was a minor, and because the photo ended up on a number of other phones, and a policeman caught wind of this, the boy could be charged with child pornography and distribution as well. The boy was not charged, but the police checked where the photo had been sent, then erased the photo from the boy’s cellphone and off all of the cellphones of others that had received it as well.

The daughter was completely distressed. The boy had been texting her, persuading her to send him an inappropriate photo, saying that he would love her for it, and promising that the photo would be just for him.

It’s the age-old tale dressed in high-tech clothing. Boy tries to get girl to do something she is not ready to do, and if the girl does, she is a tramp, and the boy becomes some kind of folk hero. No matter how much parents prepare their daughters, unfortunately it seems that boys promising to love girls trumps most parental teaching.

Mom and dad tried to comfort their daughter, but they were upset too, fearing the photo could end up in dangerous hands. The girl told them that she knew the second she hit the send button that she’d made a mistake. They realized that their daughter would continue to punish herself, and that the fallout she would have to face would outweigh any punishment they could hand down (but she was still grounded, and lost her phone and computer privileges).

Everyone was mad at the girl for getting the boy in trouble and many didn’t hide it. To make matters worse, the bullying and social leprosy didn’t end with their daughter. The mom even heard some of her friends saying, “Poor boy.” Shame on the judgemental ones — as if they never did anything improper, ever. What a way to find out who your true friends are.

It’s all so unimaginable.

It was a real wake-up call for me about parenting and raising kids in a cyber-generation. Moms and dads everywhere be warned, this is a new world. Nothing is private anymore. If I’d bought my daughter a cellphone, I never would have thought to tell her not to take inappropriate or racy pictures of herself and send them to a boy who promised to love her. For my son, I never would have thought to tell him to never ask a girl to send him inappropriate or racy photos. It truly never would have occurred to me.

Police have gone to schools talking to classes about this, but parents and guardians may not have heard about it. That’s why the mother in question shared this story with me; with the hopes that you and your children will never have to go through this. What seems obvious to us as adults as a really bad idea may not be so obvious to our youngsters. Prepare yourself and your children as best you can for the dangers posed by new technologies.

The girl in question is a good girl from a good family: she’s never done anything like this before (and probably won’t again). The sad thing is that this could have been you or me. Luckily when we grew up there wasn’t a digital camera or cellphone always lurking to document our every poor judgement call.

I just don’t understand why the girl and her family are still experiencing social repercussions, while the boy has not been ostracized for pressuring a young girl into sending him such a photo.

This reminds me of the time when OHL hockey teams were coming under the gun for sex-trains with their female groupies. Editorials ran telling parents to teach their girls better — yet there was nothing about coaches or parents disciplining or educating the boys.

Why, in these situations, is it seemingly all the girl’s and her family’s fault?

It’s about time we stop letting boys off the hook with a simple “boys will be boys.” Gender is not an excuse for bad behaviour at any age.

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