Girl Scout and Dr. Phil to Testify at Congressional Hearing on Cyberbullying

The advent of new media in recent years has been both a blessing and a curse to the youth of the world. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, we can hop on the computer and have a conversation with somebody half way around the world in thirty seconds or less - or more commonly, we can learn that the girl that sits behind us in History who always wears black and scowls actually has an intense love for narwhals and unicrons, by clicking on her photo album "I Love Narwhals and Unicorns." We're able to  instantly connect to others in a way no other generation has previously experienced, but we’re also exposed to the darker side of rapid, often anonymous, communication. Cyberbullying, defined as when someone is “tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another…using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones” is becoming a serious problem for teen internet users.

In recognition of this crisis, the Girl Scouts of America are taking action. Girl Scout Dominique Napolitano of West Islip, New York, along with talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw, will testify before Congress about cyberbullying today (Thursday, June 24th). Dominique will focus on the challenges she and her peers face online and the crippling effects of electronic bullying.

“It is very important for teens to promote online safety, because many teenagers fall victim to cyberbullying,” Dominique stated. Hearing online safety tips from adults can be boring. Teens may feel like adults don't understand and aren’t on the same level as them. But when the advice comes from another teen they might feel like the other person knows what they are going through. I am inspired to advocate for teen safety because I want to help save teens from feeling hurt or guilty.”

Dominique is not the only Girl Scout devoted to spreading awareness. She was one of a group of Girl Scouts who worked to create an online safety website – LMK designed to inform teens about cyberbullying, online sexual predators, cybersecurity and other internet related problems. A unique aspect of this online guide is that teens themselves largely contribute the information outlined on the site, and aim to raise awareness among their peers.

And, honestly, teens need to hear this information. Our parents were so worried about violent video games desenitizing us to violence, but in reality the sheer anonymity the internet allows us is having the same effect. Sure, shooting people for hours on end (even if it is virtual) is probably not doing great things for us, but at the same time, weilding the power to say whatever you want to whoever you want without ever having to look them in the face is its own issue. Staring at a screen and merely typing words just doesn't force us to face the consequences of our words the same way the real world does. I learned that lesson - to a much lesser degree - on this blog. Typing your thoughts into a wordpress box seems like a private experience...until you realize thousands of people are reading what your saying and they all have their own lives and perspectives as well. I'm sure typing hateful comments into an IM screen is similar; it just doesn't seem as real when you can torment someone then log off and go downstairs to eat dinner with your family.  

Not that that is any kind of excuse. In the face of recent cyberbullying tragedies – such as the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince from Massachusetts, who killed herself last January after being relentlessly harassed in school and through text and Facebook messages - it’s good to hear that other teens and the government are finally beginning not only to take this tragic phenomenon seriously, but are taking action.


*also (partially) posted at the NCRW's REAL Deal Blog where I will be guest blogging this summer!

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Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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