What Would You Do?

Ask.fm is the latest post-anything website both beloved and hated by teenagers. Its anonymous question-and-answer format allows — if not encourages – abusive, bullying content. (The site was referenced in news reports of the suicide of a 12-year-old Florida girl.)

I know this because a Westport parent told me about Ask.fm, and described its use by middle school students here.

Ask fmThe bullying of the parent’s child (and a friend who stood up for the child) peaked this winter, with repeated references to school events. The child went to  administrators, who after an investigation said that one perpetrator had been identified. An official said the bully was remorseful, and an apology would be forthcoming.

It never came.

The parent and child were uneasy. Neither knew which classmate had been behind the bullying, or which of the parent’s adult friends were helping that child hide behind the legal right of anonymity for juveniles.

“You know who punches you in the face on the playground,” the parent says. “But today’s technology allows this to be the perfect crime.”

The parent considered going to the police. Anonymity would still be honored, but in the parent’s words, “the process would be the punishment.”

After all, the parent says, “this family hasn’t had the moxie to come forward. We don’t even know if they punished their child.”

Bullying 3

The parent does not know if going to the police is the right thing to do. Is it overkill? If so, is overkill worth getting some satisfaction of knowing something happened — even if the parents never learn what (or even who) was involved?

The parent wants to know what “06880″ readers think. Should the parents of the bully have stepped up and apologized — or made their child do so? Should the police be involved? Are there other options?

Click “Comments” to weigh in. And — unlike Ask.fm — please use your real name.

18 responses to “What Would You Do?

  1. Mark Demmerle

    The school administration will more than likely do nothing unless the ‘bullying’ took place on campus. The police will get involves if hateful and dangerous threats are involved.

    It is intensely frustrating for a parent to witness this kind of abuse towards their child. Who knows if ‘the bully’ is a child or not?

    It would be wise to encourage real time social interaction. Virtual reality can be desensitizing. Email is ‘the canvas of cowards’.

    If your child is or has been the victim of a ‘bully’, try to equip her/him with the skills of understanding that it is the feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and other emotional pain that is causing ‘bullying ‘ behavior.
    This kind of parenting is complicated since you do not want to further rob your son or daughter of their childhood by discussing ‘existential angst’ in explaining the miserable dwelling place of a nasty ‘bully’.

    It’s also useful advise in an adults life since ‘bullying’ can happen anywhere to anybody

  2. Julie Van Norden

    The parents should step up and bring their child forward to apologize. They would probably be more likely to do that if the police are not involved. We shouldn’t have to force people to do the right thing.

  3. I think that the school administration should step in to make this an example of “zero tolerance” of bullying. A school that hides behind “it didn’t happen at school ” is likely to have more serious bullying ahead– it sends the message that prevention of this cruelty is not a community value.
    The school should make attention to bullying important. A “face to face” apology by the child to the bullying victim would be appropriate. If it isn’t offered, the suspension of the child who bullied, or some other consequence, would be in order. It’s likely that if the bully and his or her parents suffered a consequence of this behavior, it could discourage the same behavior by them (and others) in the future.

  4. Bobbie Herman

    The parents are responsible for the behavior of their child. But if my child were being bullied on ask.fm, I would make him/her discontinue using the website.

  5. First, I ‘d like to say how sorry I am for the child and the parent(s) to be going through this, since when something like this happens to a child, the whole family feels it.

    Second, have the child UNPLUG. If it’s written, the child won’t know it. And, if the child does read something, explain how responding fuels the toxicity. Social media can create a vicious cycle of aggression towards a victim, who then feverishly seeks to gain validation from the perpetrator (s). Not unlike regular domestic violence. This unhealthy dependency on getting validation from Facebook, Instagram, etc., is present in adults as well as kids. I would want my child to detach from Ask.FM and go to real people and friends for validation while focusing on the activities that engage the child’s mind and spirit.

    Third, since so much is out of the parent’s control regarding the administration and the other parents of the cyber bully, I would focus on what is in my own control, which is working on building resiliency in my own kid in a variety of ways, one being explaining that hurt people need to hurt others and the perpetrator is in some kind of pain, in an effort to have my child begin to not take this personally. A hard lesson, I know, since what is being said is so personal, but these lessons need to be taught more than once. Bullies are people in pain and may have been bullied at one time themselves. Empathy for this bullier would go a long way, if his/her parents sought it out.

    Fourth, the parent may want to appeal to the school administrators again to act as a liaison who will ask the parents for an anonymous letter of apology to the child/family. The administrators also would do well to have small scale cyber bullying AND empathy workshops throughout the year with school counselors for each grade level. In the auditorium, the perpetrators can stay hidden and feel like this message is not for me, but in a classroom discussion where it’s more intimate, the message stands a better chance of seeping in. Empathy needs to be taught.

    As much as we wish it weren’t true, the country’s children who are bullied in any capacity, create their self-conception based on messages from peers – if they have not learned to interrupt their interpretations with a more valid and true self-concept. This is challenging for kids, and adults, therefore, the administration really needs to step in to help the parents of the cyber bully and the bully get their empathy chip engaged and realization how impactful this has been.

    Best wishes for this parent who I admire for working so hard to get some answers.

  6. Where I live, in the state of Mass. Bullying has now become illegal .
    This is a complicated issue. If its done within the school system, the response should be much more than the child who was bullying is remorseful.
    The target of the bullying child should feel safe in school etc.. That is the primary concern. How the other parents deal with their child is really of no concern.
    I am an expert on this subject and would be more than willing to answer questions privately from the family.

  7. Go to the police mostly for the sake of the irresponsible parents learning a lesson now, which they refused to learn the easy, and now have to learn the hard way!

  8. If you refer to the Ct. site on Bullying, you will find that each school district must have a specified procedure to deal with Bullying. This information should also be available in the Superintendent’s office and in the student handbook. I think you have a right to understand the school’s documented procedure for dealing with incidents of bullying and the consequences that are enforced to the perpetuator. I think the administrator owes the parents an apology for not following through in some way with this incident.

  9. Werner Liepolt

    http://www.cga.ct.gov/coc/PDFs/bullying/2011_bullying_law.pdf

    Ct law seems to demand a much higher level of response from school officials than is reported.

  10. The parent whose child was bullied in the story above asked me to post this:

    “Thank you, to those who have weighed in. To be fair, I do want to clarify that the administration stated that it did mete out punishment, but that those consequences were undisclosed to us due to the protections afforded the perpetrator as a juvenile. So, while we have placed our trust in the administrative procedures, we are left with unknown actor and unknown consequences….And without an apology; a hostile environment, if nothing else. (Who wants to go to school every day wondering “whodunnit?”)

    My child, as the primary target of these comments was slandered and attacked on third parties’ ask.fm walls, and has never had an account. Ask.fm functions as an anonymous billboard where anybody can publish anything about anyone, even without the target buying in to the forum as a willing participant. So, if nothing else, we know that our bully is a coward, and emboldened by the anonymity that they are continuing to hide behind.

    I am surprised that there were not more strong opinions, as to whether making this a police matter would be appropriate or not, given the vagaries of the administrative remedies. I grew up here in town, in a time when the parent of the bad actor would have dragged him or her by their ear to our doorstep and made things right, pronto. I guess this is just another illustration of how things have changed.”

  11. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    What I find most alarming and saddening about these stories is the lack of remorse, that sick feeling one gets immediately after insulting another human being, whether on-line, in writing, in person, on the phone… I think everyone can admit to being a culprit of such bad behaviour (I’ve been guilty of it on this very site!). The immediate response is an apology. Human nature kicks in, a lesson learned.
    Yet, being on the other side of the bad behaviour, the response is better to ignore. That’s what I would try to do if bullied. Sometimes easier said than done.
    Life.

  12. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    p.s. What would I do if the “culprit” eventually comes forth to apologize? I would hope that both my child and I would graciously accept it. Smile and move on.

  13. So sorry to hear about your child. My child was bullied in Middle School. We were disappointed in the way the school handled it. A bullying file was created and the child had an in school suspension. We felt the kids should have been put together to discuss what happened and for apologies to be made, not only did that not happen, the school in turn put them in the same gym class and put them side by side in the science fair! What a lack of compassion and common sense! We actually called the police to see what kind of steps we could take and we decided not to file charges with the police we did not want the other child to have a record etc. We in turn decided to discuss and teach our child to understand what bullying looks like and to focus on all the good aspect in himself. Fast forward 3 years and the kids have been in social events and all is fine. We are happy that we did not go to the police but also understand that the reason most parents of “the bully” do not have their child apologize is because they are fearful of litigation. They do not want their child admitting to something that could in turn become a legal issue. Bullying being illegal seems great however we have to remember that we are dealing with children, children make mistakes and if we are afraid of litigation most parents will choose to shelter their children and therefore not facing the situation head on. I think the school can help in this situation by being the mediators and displaying “old school” ways of handling such events. Face to face discussions show kids how they have affected the other and will therefore increase compassion and respect for their fellow classmates.

  14. ps. I would be that parent who drags her child to the kids house to apologize. I have done it and because I have I believe my children respect and treat their classmates with compassion.

    • Hi. It’s the victim’s mom here. Thing is….we don’t know who it was. Whereas you seem to have known who it was in your circumstances, our bully is unknown and won’t come forward. No way of knowing if they are side by side in gym class or if I am sitting next to the mom in pod meetings. Imagine that? If they would just own up and we could get that apology that would fix it all for us. Honestly. Not interested in litigating. But if they don’t step up, we may turn the legal process (criminal justice system) loose. School can’t/won’t help and will not mediate. They have to preserve the anonymity. There has to be accountability somewhere. Feeling like it is time to call Ms. Dobson (Youth Officer). Thanks xoxo for your voice!

  15. joe signorile

    Am i missing something here? This is crazy…the main issue here is this website SHOULD NOT exist…why is this appropriate for kids?…anonymity is not good…you need to be responsible for what you say…good or bad

  16. KENDALL ANDERSON

    Far too often adults fail to realize the very grim consequences of being bullied. GO TO THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY.. Your child must know that you take this problem seriously, and that you are doing something serious about it …failure to act implies that you as well as your child are powerless ….and that can have tragic results