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Rebecca Sedwick's tragic bullying tale must be shared with kids

Published Oct. 16, 2013

My daughter and her friend filled their bowls with the ingredients of their choice at Genghis Grill on Tuesday night.

But they weren't happy when I mixed in a discussion about cyberbullying and suicide. Cautionary tales about Internet posts and being kind to friends just don't jibe with a Mongolian barbecue mix of sliced beef, fried rice and ginger citrus sauce.

But I don't think I had a choice.

In this Internet age, we have to share the story of Lakeland's Rebecca Sedwick and how bullying led her to commit suicide. I had to be the buzzkill with my daughter even though she doesn't turn 12 until this weekend and is seemingly too young for such an adult discussion.

After all, Rebecca was 12 — and so was one of the two girls arrested and charged with aggravated stalking by the Polk County Sheriff's Office this week.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said the parents of the alleged offenders haven't tried to curb their daughters' damaging behavior.

"The parents are in total denial,'' Judd told Matt Lauer on NBC's Today. "They don't think there's a problem here, and that is the problem."

Initially, mothers and fathers may wonder if the subject is too sensitive and if they're better off shielding their children from the news reports, but this is the information age. If you've granted your child the privilege of having a smartphone (we have) or even if you haven't, it's quite possible they already know about the tragedy in Lakeland.

My daughter learned about Rebecca's death because the Brandon Cowboys Youth Football and Cheerleading Association printed "stop bullying" T-shirts to help raise money for the Sedwick family.

Hoping they don't find out is not an option. Hoping they're never bullied or will never think to bully someone else is naive.

The true steps are evident. You have to monitor your child's posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media.

You have to talk about the potential harm that can result from mean posts. You have to remind them over and over that great responsibility comes with Internet access.

Social media give children some of the same power at the disposal of newspapers, television stations and other professional outlets. Yet they possess none of the training we've gone through that helps shape our responsible publishing and broadcasting decisions. It's a lot of power to place in the hands of a child.

It can be argued that preteens simply are too young to have such access, but if you choose to grant it to them, do so with detailed instructions. Tell them about Rebecca Sedwick even if it means being labeled the "no-fun father." Plead with them that they bring bullying incidents to your attention.

And make sure they understand that conflicts shouldn't be solved with venomous posts, hateful words and physical action.

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In the final analysis, we need to guard against raising a generation that believes solutions come only from guilt-ridden words and anger-driven discourse. From reality shows to town hall meetings to Facebook posts, we're sending a message that in-your-face confrontations can be more impactful than calm and reason.

Our kids may not realize the emotional wreckage that can be left in the wake of such outbursts, but if we don't heighten their awareness and enhance their sensitivity, people like Sheriff Judd will.

That's all I'm saying.


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