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bq. In the physical world, empathy and morality can be influenced and taught by exposing children and adults to situations that emphasize our inter-connectedness. The challenge is how to do this on the Internet, where cyber-bullying and harassment are growing problems. Preliminary research shows that even short visits from babies to school classrooms reduce the aggressive behavior of students.

The University of British Columbia in Vancouver has researched this phenomenon for the last seven years and observed the aggression patterns of more than 2,000 children. The results are quite impressive. 88% of children with a propensity toward aggression showed a decline in their aggression index. Today this program is being implemented all over the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Appropriately titled, Roots of Empathy, the focus of the program is to teach children empathy, kindness, and connectedness (we are all connected to one another in one way or the other). Understandably, kids find it to be a rewarding and endearing experience when they can show kindness, rather than experience the unkindness of others or even show unkindness to others. Showing empathy and thoughtfulness to others, even in the face of one being victimized, provides hope and purpose. Acts of kindness create memories of the good side in all of us and such memories can be rejuvenating and empowering both in children and adults.


However, there is a new and rapidly growing form of bullying, and that is cyber-bullying or Internet bullying. Cyber-bullying is the use of any and all forms of digital media such as instant messaging, blogs, websites, emails, chat rooms, and cell phones with the sole intent to cause harm. This may include intent to humiliate, threaten, embarrass, cause emotional distress, reputation loss, demand submission, perpetuate hate, and distort the identities and motives of others. In an unsupervised digital world, with few laws and no boundaries, where identities are fluid and fiction becomes fact overnight, cyber-bullying is an exciting game for digital predators. While in face-to-face bullying the identity of the bully is known, in cyber-bullying the identity of the bully is often masked or anonymous. Bullying is restricted to a geographic location whereas cyber-bullying is a drama played out on a world-wide stage with free and ready access to anyone, anywhere, at any time to watch or participate in the process. In an unsupervised digital world, with few laws and no boundaries, where identities are fluid and fiction becomes fact overnight, cyber-harassment is an exciting game for digital predators.

Cyber-bullying is a devastating problem for many children and in fact, according to Tanya Byron, lead psychologist in a government study of cyber-bullying in England as reported in the Financial Times, children are more afraid of cyber-bullying than even pedophiles. Why? Children get a respite from bullies in their schools when they go home, but they get no respite from cyber-bullying. Cyber bullies are on the job 24/7, watching and preying, and can recruit other online bullies in a matter of a few mouse clicks. While we don’t have Internet babies that can coo and teach empathy online, the importance of early intervention to cyber-bullying cannot be over emphasized. The first response and reaction of most people who are harassed by cyber-bullies is to lean on the law, but unfortunately, in many cases this can be an expensive dead end. Laws on cyber-bullying are in their formative stages, while freedom of speech, even irresponsible freedom of speech, has ardent supporters with unequivocal legal language to back it up. So the burden of waging the battle against cyber-bullies falls on the shoulders of children, teachers, and parents. Be alert, be prepared, and be ready to respond. As a parent, ignorance about the Internet and what your children do on the Internet can be a costly, and sometimes even deadly, gamble. There are no babies to coo on the Internet and teach our children empathy. We still have to do it the good old-fashioned way, one day at a time, by modeling empathetic behavior.


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