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Trying to deal with high-tech bullying

“YOU SUCK! — I HATE YOU!!!"

The 12-year-old was being dumped. That message, sent via e-mail, was the first indication something was amiss between the two friends who, just weeks earlier, had been enjoying late-night, giggling sleepovers and Saturday night roller-skating ventures.

Then, with the click of the "send" button, it was over.

Well, not quite.

A deeper cyber investigation through MySpace revealed that there were others involved, that my daughter was the planned target of a shunning campaign to commence this coming school year.

Here we go again. Middle school mean girls ganging up. Time to contact the parents, try to work things out or at least get it to stop, help the 12-year-old find the valuable life lessons in all of this.

With friends like these … .

You really don't want to peak in middle/high school.

And the big one: empathy. Yeah, kiddo, now you know what it feels like. It's crummy, for sure, but in the end, this can help make you a better person.

If you don't have anything nice to say … .

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Some call it a rite of passage.

Anyone who has made it through middle school knows that bullying happens all the time.

Just ask any middle school guidance counselor or school psychologist. Traditionally, they are the leaders sponsoring those antibullying programs we read about in the school newsletter.

There have been books written on how to deal with it. School assemblies. There's even an annual national conference.

"Don't be so catty," was how my mom used to warn me when she thought I was crossing the line.

"Catty" was her word for it.

These days, "relational aggression'' is the psycho-scientific name for the girl-on-girl type of bullying that seems to flourish in the tween/teen years. By many accounts, it tapers off when self-assurance kicks in. Even so, the bully mentality often carries on into adulthood.

Yup, some of us never grow out of it.

Think Lori Drew, the MySpace cyber-bully mom from suburban St. Louis. In May, Drew was indicted for allegedly harassing a 14-year-old girl through a fake MySpace page she created.

The girl, who thought she was being dumped by a 16-year-old boy she had developed a cyber crush on, later committed suicide.

And closer to home, just check out some of the nasty exchanges some Times readers submit anonymously at the end of various online news articles. Cyber-bullying, while not the intent, is all too often the result when online publications like this one offer a forum for reader input. And it's not just the girls. From what I've seen, there are plenty of guys getting in on the cyber-mob mentality.

"Really now," I want to tell them all. "Behave yourself. Don't be so catty!"

Or at least exhibit some restraint.

Alas, that "submit" button is so easy to push — especially when you're in the privacy of your own home or office cubicle.

Sure, you are required to give your first name and e-mail address before writing your comment in 250 characters or less.

But who really knows if your name is "Pete" or "Mary" or if you are listing your sister-in-law's e-mail address instead of your own?

Here's an old-fashioned idea:

Write a letter to the editor. You can even e-mail it.

Of course you'd be required to sign your first and last name to that scribe before it would be published. Your phone number, too, so the Times can be sure that you really are who you say you are.

That would take some courage, and perhaps, some real conviction behind those words.

Michele Miller can be reached by e-mail at miller@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6251.

Trying to deal with high-tech bullying 08/10/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 7:48pm]

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