Back in the caveman days when I was in school, we had bullies and the bullied, and things got pretty mean and nasty.
But the bullied — a category in which I dwelt — had one advantage that kids today don’t have — we could confront our tormenters.
Thus, while Og the Oppressor might wallop me mightily about my head and shoulders with his club, I at least knew who he was and could get in a few whacks of my own from time to time.
Today it’s a different story, because man has advanced his technology sufficiently that bullies can ply their rotten trade without anyone knowing who they are.
That’s right — I’m talking about cyberbullying, one of the dark facets of man’s emerging technology and a source of torment to children across the country, not least of all in San Luis Obispo County.
“It’s huge,” said Victoria Doust, the Associated Student Body adviser who is working with staff and students at Cayucos Elementary School to attack the problem. “It’s everywhere.”
There are many ways society can deal with cyber-bullying. One letter writer to The Tribune recently suggested that victims and parents march into the principal’s office with a lawyer on one hip and a policeman on the other.
I dunno: While initially satisfying, that solution doesn’t seem to me that it would help in the long run.
Or you could go for the “everyone should pack heat” option, favored by the titans of industry in the U.S. who make megabucks on the sale of deadly weapons.
Susie Q is not likely to receive any guff if her would-be bully knows that she will fill him full of lead.
I don’t care for that one, either.
Happily, Doust and others are seeking more creative and lasting solutions. For example, they have just sent a letter to state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, asking him to introduce legislation that would halt cyberbullying.
In a letter to Blakeslee, they called the behavior “an epidemic that we think can be prevented with your help.”
I spoke last week with Doust; Friday Night Live coordinator Rachel Borovay; and Cayucos students Lucas Epstein, an eighth-grader, and Bryn Anderson, who is in seventh grade.
They defined cyberbullying as “bullying not in a physical sense,” to use Bryn’s words. It is, she said, taunting that “will make you feel bad about yourself” — telling you you’re fat or ugly, for example.
The denigration goes beyond “fat” and “ugly,” Doust adds. “They’re so mean, it’s unbelievable.”
This kind of stuff would be problematic enough if it were confined to the playground but it isn’t, not these days. Bryn and Lucas described the many ways taunts and insults can be transmitted, to Facebook and to the dizzying array of other electronic receptors kids have nowadays.
It can and does go up to “sexting,” sending messages with sexual overtones or content and sometimes pictures.
“You don’t know who’s doing that to you,” Bryn said.
And once it appears on the Internet, it has eternal life.
“The technology is in advance of the law,” Doust said.
Much of the problem lies in anonymity and lack of accountability, D.A.R.E. program leader Susie Correia has said. “Bullies are not monitored at home and have access to too much technology without supervision,” she said.
At Cayucos School, the student body is tackling bullying behavior in ways that could be called consciousness-raising.
They do role-playing, for example, and have such activities as a “bully free” card game.
They have an activity in which students stand behind a line and the organizer asks those who feel they have been bullied to step forward. Almost everyone crosses that line, Bryn said.
This and other exercises have limitations. For example, Lucas noted, there is still reluctance on the part of some youngsters to admit they have been bullied.
Neither Lucas nor Bryn reported being bullied personally, although they have heard of others who have been on the receiving end of this vicious behavior.
Whether or not they have experienced it personally, they know cyber-bullying exists and want the Legislature to act. They and their adult advisers say current anti-bullying laws do not go far enough.
Exactly what the local folks want the Legislature do to is vague at the moment. Leaders of Friday Night Live have researched laws on bullying and have offered their services in crafting legislation.
“Please let us know what we can do to help you,” they wrote in their letter to Blakeslee. One thing is clear: They want accountability.
Beyond prompting the Legislature to act, these folks simply want to get the word out that cyberbullying exists, it’s getting worse, and it needs to be reined in.
“We’re going to spread the word all over California,” Doust said.