When I received an email offering me the opportunity to preview a new documentary on cyberbullying, I jumped at the chance. When the time came to sit down and watch, however, I was hesitant. I knew it would be difficult to do so.
It was, but I came away from Submit The Documentary energized. I was incredibly emotional, charged up and more passionate about the mission of The Mom Pledge than ever.
The film includes interviews with an impressive selection of experts. Many I was familiar with and some I was not. Each one demonstrated a clear understanding of the issue and its effects. As a group they had the most comprehensive knowledge base I have seen compiled in any media piece on this topic.
The film looks at several cases of teen suicide as a result of cyberbullying. The interviews with the parents were heartbreaking to watch. As a parent myself, it is easy to identify with the pain and anguish they are experiencing. And, as one grieving mother reminds us all, "It can happen to anybody's child."
Another issue the film explores in depth is teen sexting. The prevalence of it and the cavalier attitude demonstrated by many of the teens interviewed was extremely disturbing. My husband and I have discussed at length the importance of staying on top of technology and monitoring our daughter's online activities as she grows (she's only four now), as well as having open and regular communication with her about the dangers.
The film definitely reinforced how essential that is. But it also terrified me about the things my child will be exposed to. As parents, we worry about all kinds of potential dangers. Cyberbullying is so big and so hard to get a handle on. As the film points out, "The arsenal of the cyberbully is vast and ever growing."
I found it very interesting when psychologist Dr. Robin Kowalski said cyberbullying is "more of a girl thing." She explained research shows more girls engage in indirect forms of aggression like cyberbullying than boys. That very much matches what I see online and why I started The MOM Pledge. Unfortunately, grown women cyberbullying, too. And far too often.
The filmmakers are very frank about the difficulty of addressing this issue and the elusiveness of concrete solutions. They outline the cycle that typically occurs when trying to deal with cyberbullying as "one big mess of roadblocks." And admit there are no conventional answers.
The suggestion? Find unconventional ones. The film looks at how to train teens not to be passive bystanders, but to stand up to cyberbullies and rally around victims. Author David Levine says teaching empathy is the key. Which reminded me of Annie Fox's book Teaching Kids To Be Good People, which I reviewed here recently.
One thing I really appreciated about this film is how it touched on the issue of adults engaging in bullying behavior. The disturbing fact that the person who cyberbullied teen Megan Meier until she hanged herself was an adult was discussed. And researcher Randy Blazak talked about the strong connection between parental behavior and children who bully:
Most kids who bully learn it from their parents. They pick up some type of bullying behavior from their parents.
I have said it over and over, and will continue do so as long and as loudly as I can. We will NEVER succeed at helping our children with the bullying epidemic until and unless we address ADULT attitudes and behaviors. And are able to affect change.
The focus on this film is on youth. I wish someone would make a film about adult bullies and victims. There is a pervasive culture of bullying in our society. At all levels. And we need to be shining a bright light on this issue and talking about it.
According to research shared on the Submit The Documentary website, only seven percent of US parents are concerned about cyberbullying, while more than thirty-three percent of teens have been victims. That seems to me a significant disconnect, one I'm sure is even greater with the topic of adult cyberbullying.
The fact is, we should all be concerned. And looking at what we personally can do to help address this problem. The depth and scope is staggering, and experts agree it is only going to get worse. We need to all get involved and work to do something about it.
As internet safety expert Mary Kay Hohl says in the film:
If what is going on online was happening in the real world, there would be people marching. There would be social change.
She goes on to say,
If we wouldn't accept certain offline behaviors, then whoever said we should online?
I could not possibly agree more.
I will be arranging an online screening of this film for members of The Mom Pledge Community. If you want to receive an invite, please make sure you have signed up for our mailing list: