It was early in the school year when it happened. Long before iPads, not every book fit in your locker and there was certainly no space for your bag. My bag was a very recognisable (purposefully) ripped and bleached army surplus and on this day, in that bag, was a music tape. The album’s artwork depicted an open-mouthed head trying to escape. Probably reflective of how most of us 13+ second-year students felt at the time. Released that summer, Music for the Jilted Generation, The Prodigy’s second album, I had actually bought (as opposed to copying). Quite the investment for the as-yet unemployed. So when I saw the tape, pulled from the cassette, strewn along the corridor, and realised that no amount of pencil winding was fixing it, I was gutted and confused (“Why not just rob it?” I thought). “Someone” (I knew who) had destroyed my proud possession to hurt me. My mother, of course, put it down to jealousy, which I think is still standard mother comfort to this day. This was my first - not last - run-in with a bully. But as hard as it was then, modern-day bullying is more insidious in that it is inescapable and goes everywhere with you, in your own pocket.
Last week, you could not turn on the radio without hearing the word ChatGPT, the AI (artificial intelligence) designed to understand and generate human “like” text. Considering, this is what the kids are now using to write their essays, I bemusedly asked it to write 200 words on online bullying for me. The machine quickly informed me that “cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person, through social media platforms, text messages, e-mails, or websites [failed to mention online games - a bad omission]. It has become increasingly common with the rise of technology and can have severe and long-lasting repercussions. It can cause victims to feel isolated, anxious, and depressed, as well as lead to social withdrawal, low self-esteem, and poor academic performance. It can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and sleep disturbances. In extreme cases, it can even lead to suicide.”
I then asked for some advice on prevention. The machine helpfully advised parents and teachers to educate children about technology, the importance of reporting incidents, monitoring and establishing clear rules about how it can be used. Not perfect but also not bad ChatGPT! In particular, the last part was also a recommendation from a webinar I attended organised by the National Parents Council for Safer Internet Day (7 February). The aim was to raise awareness of emerging online issues from cyberbullying to social networking to digital identity. The major recommendation for parents was to have an online agreement (a template was provided) that the family sign up to. In our parenting series, Rebecca Lenehan speaks with cyberbullying experts on what to watch out for and how to support your child. The internet is also noted in health this week as an external factor playing a role in eating disorders.
Psychological bullying preceded the virtual world, and isn’t reserved for the young, as our reader Michael pointed out to Miriam. He advises that “bullying is not acceptable” in response to a recent letter from a reader who was being guilted for hiring a cleaner.
And what of my tape? Well, I picked my lip off the floor and copied it from my friend Aoife. Couldn’t let the bully win now, could we, with her being only jealous and all?