Archive for April 2nd, 2010


Social Networking Sites should be off limits to children

In the news this week comes the tragic tale of Phobe Prince, an Irish immigrant, and student at South Hadley High School, in Massachusetts, who hung herself after being bullied relentlessly by nine other students. Although Phoebe’s death is tragic it is sad to say that it is not unprecedented. Many people remember the case of Megan Meier, a teen who killed herself after another girl’s mother harassed her on Myspace, using a fake male name to flirt with the girl, then trash her publicly with salicious rumors.

No one knows how many kids have killed themselves in part due to cyber-bullying, but we can guess that many children, going through puberty, reaching adolescence, are bullied at a rate unseen in previous generations thanks to the popularity and power of the internet.

In the past I have had a laid-back attitude when it comes to bullying. As harsh as it can be I do believe that kids who survive bullying can come out stronger because of it, and I do not believe we can police children’s attitudes the same way we can regulate adult behavior. In short, kids will say and do dumb stuff, and mean stuff. When I was fifteen I was bullied relentlessly, and yes, it was hard on me. I also attempted suicide at a later age, not because of bullying, but due to depression that was in part caused by bullying. So I know how it feels. But I also know that bullying can motivate children to grow tougher, and increase their desire to fit in and better themselves. Bullying, despite what it can do to children, does have its place. But bullying in today’s world has gone too far, and what we now refer to as bullying, follows more closely along the lines of harassment.

When I was a kid a bully would pick on you at school, but only at school, and only in certain classes where teachers could break it up if it got too bad. I got into a few fights after school as well, but I didn’t have to, and once I got on the bus to go home that was it for the day. I also believe boys bullying is less severe than girls. A guy might make fun of you but it won’t take long before it results in a fist fight. But girls can pick on you psychologically, sometimes without even knowing it, and their is no end to this. Cyber-bullying, which occurs when kids spread rumors, or make fun of you online, is much worse, especially for girls. No longer do kids have the protection and the sanctuary of home, because now kids can spread hateful messages about you all day, and make them available anywhere. Furthermore cyber-bullying has a permeance that bullying used to never have. In the old days if a kid said something mean to you or about you only a few people heard it, and it was quickly forgotten ( at least until the next school day). But now kids messages can be read by everyone at school, hell everyone in the world really. And these messages do not go away because they stay online and other kids can build on these rumors. Cyber-bullying allows no refuse to unpopular kids. They get hammered daily and from all sides. Someone has to put a stop to this.

I am not in favor of anti-bullying laws for a number of reasons. First of all, as I said earlier, I think some bullying has its place. Secondly, we can’t police children’s attitudes, and this is hard to enforce, even if we wanted to. Perhaps most importantly there is a high potential for anti-bullying laws to be used in excess by school administrators who can’t distinguish between different types of bullying. My friends and I used to make fun of each other, but it was all in good humor. I don’t think if someone had overheard it we should have been brought up on criminal charges.

To some extent bullying has to be handled by parents, and teachers, the same way that it always has. But we can do more, and I can think of one obvious solution. Minors should not be allowed to have their own web pages! No Facebook, no Myspace, no Twitter, none of it. Minors are not entitled to all of the same rights as adults, and schools regularly regulate what children wear and how they behave inside the school district. I realize that social networking sites are the province of individuals, but I do think a law that forbids minor children from creating their own web profiles would not be out of line.

Also in the news recently was the story of child predators using Club Penguin, a site for younger kids to have open chats, to target kids for sexual advances. We know that child predators regularly use the internet and social networking sites to gain access to children. The internet, which is a wonderful tool, has to be used with some standards by minor children. It is a good start for parents and teachers to monitor what sites children visit and what they do on the internet, but it would further improve cyber-bullying and other threats by denying children the right to certain sites.

I am a Libertarian by nature, and I don’t regulate behavior or freedom lightly, but kids are not the same as adults, and we have a societal interest in keeping them safe. I won’t allow my son or daughter to have a Facebook page, or any other page. At the very least it is nothing more than a distraction. Kids should interact with other kids normally, not “chatting” online. At worst, social networking sites are a clear and present danger to millions of kids.

Kids don’t need their own Facebook, however cool it might be. It is a shame we have to regulate children’s behavior, but if nothing else, recent cases shed light on how far kids can and will go without this regulation. I hate to say it, but Kids and Social Networking are two things that just don’t mix. Thanks for listening.


Jack B.