How Not To Prevent Bullying
Two anti-bullying videos that might do more harm than good.
Read the rest of Emily Bazelon's series on cyberbullying.
Wylie Tene, the public relations manager of the AFSP, told me that Bergen County wrote back to defend the video as aimed at preventing cyberbullying, not suicide. But isn't it wrongheaded to ward off bullying with materials that suicide professionals think could put kids at risk of the worst possible outcome? I called the prosecutor's office twice to ask that question and didn't get a call back. According to NorthJersey.com, the Park Ridge Police Department, which trains police and educators to present the video, recognizes that "This isn't a film you just show to students," as Lt. Joseph Rampolla put it. The prosecutor's office holds 90-minute training sessions and the video comes with a teaching guide.
But it's hard to see how a few hours of training makes up for the flaws with this whole package. Willard points out that the teaching materials include true/false questions that make it seem as if sexting and cyberbullying are more widespread than they are. ("Many teens post inappropriate images of themselves online. True!!! Most teens have harassed or bullied at least one other person online. True!!!!"—well, actually, false!!!!). The problem with this approach is that it makes bad behavior seem normal and even expected, rather than deviant. "The most important point is that most kids don't bully," says Larry Magid, a director of ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit Internet safety organization. "It's a small percent of outcasts who do that. The 'norm' is to treat each other respectfully. And since kids want to be normal' they should emulate what most of their peers do and not be jerks." Here's more on this idea, from Magid's co-director, Anne Collier.
To be fair to David Schwimmer, Trust isn't nearly as dreadful as these other two videos. Schwimmer consulted with a rape foundation in Santa Monica about his film. While the scenario he presents of an adult preying on a teenager online is rare, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, it does happen. Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor who has worked on these kinds of cases, wrote that as he watched the movie, "I kept thinking how much TRUST is true to life in the digital century."
The problem with the film, though, is that it offers a bad model for how parents should deal with a kid spending time online. When they see her constantly texting and IM-ing, Annie's parents don't ask her about what she's doing. After the rape, her mother talks about how her daughter is ruined and the father acts as if she is. In the last scene between Annie and her father, there is a mawkish nod to reconciliation, but it's unconvincing. Thankfully Truth is far too somber and heavy to draw much of a teen audience. For parents, I guess it could work as an anti-model: Here's what not to do, from start to finish.
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.
Still of Trust courtesy Millennium Films.