Thursday 18 December 2014

Ian O'Doherty: End this hysteria – just blame the bullies instead

Published 15/11/2013 | 21:30

Jumping on the bandwagon: Corrie's cyber-bullying storyline is a cynical ratings ploy
Jumping on the bandwagon: Corrie's cyber-bullying storyline is a cynical ratings ploy

So, Corrie's descent into tedious 'social issues' continues unabated. Their latest storyline, which seems designed merely to give them an excuse to run an ad for a helpline over the credits, sees two of the young teenage characters, Faye and Grace, embark on a cyber-bullying spree.

It's the latest example of the hot-button issue of the year hitting the zeitgeist. Or, if you look at things another way, it's the soap cynically hopping on to the latest bandwagon and using it for ratings. In reality, it's both.

Everybody – and I mean, everybody – needs to take a step back from this cultural maelstrom and try to suck on some common sense.

For starters, the persistent use of the phrase cyber-bullying needs to go – bullying is bullying is bullying.

If, as we're constantly told, the virtual dimension is no different to the real world, then there is obviously no difference between hassling someone in the playground or in the ether of the delightful Ask.fm.

Or is there?

Because this whole issue has become so clouded by wanton hysteria, anybody who tries to inject a bit of calm logic into the issue is immediately shouted down in a storm of rancour and accusations – usually parents who have seen their child upset and react accordingly, lashing out in an entirely understandable, but entirely unproductive, way.

Let's be honest, calling for the aforementioned Ask.fm to be banned is about as reasonable as asking someone to turn off the internet – it just can't be done. Forget about the infamous comments of a late and largely unlamented former Ireland manager, this cat is well and truly out of the freakin' bag.

But while you can't blame any parent for completely losing it when they see their daughter in floods of tears because someone is saying that they're fat and stupid and ugly, politicians are meant to be smarter of brain and cooler of head.

The latest attempt to placate the masses comes courtesy of young Fianna Failer Robert Troy who wants to prosecute parents who knowingly allow their kids to bully others online.

In fact, he even says that: "The proposed legislation states that parents will be deemed to have committed an offence where they know cyber-bullying is taking place and they don't take any steps to stop it from continuing. Any parents found guilty of cyber-bullying would initially be required to engage with parenting courses but in serious and persistent cases, people could face a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine of up to €20,000, or both."

This is, of course, just another example of a politician appealing to the lowest common denominator and . . . actually, hang on. Maybe the guy is onto something?

Obviously, when confronted by the idea that a Fianna Failer might actually have a point, I needed a stiff drink and had to lie down for several minutes until the vapours faded.

But, goddammit, maybe we should listen to what he has to say. Not about sending parents to the chokey for a two-stretch if they allow their child to be a little shite – we'd have to build more prisons if we criminalised idiots who think their sprog can do no wrong. But it is undeniably refreshing to see someone calling for parents to do some actual parenting

I know, I know. That's a terribly judgmental thing to do and parenting is hard enough these days what with computers and mobile phones and porn on tap and the pressure to impress boys and the influence of that nasty Miley Cyrus and . . . stop.

Just stop.

Just because you don't understand, or claim not to understand, the medium your kids are using doesn't give you a free pass from responsibility.

And what makes Troy's point more interesting than a mere piece of kneejerk drivel is that it is ultimately putting the blame where it really lies – the kids doing the bullying.

Because in the endless echo chamber of piety which has been booming around our ears on this issue, particularly in all the warnings about how to recognise the tell-tale signs of a child being bullied, nobody has mentioned that the kids – overwhelmingly adolescent girls – doing the bullying need to be addressed.

In fact, most of the people who expressed fears that their child might be the victim never admit that there is a statistically far greater chance their child is actually the victimiser. Actually, human nature being nature, there's a good chance that your child is doing a bit of both.

That doesn't fit the comfortable narrative of innocent Irish girls being targeted by anonymous, foreign trolls. But no, the uncomfortable truth is that they're being bullied by their own peers.

How someone reacts to the news their child is a little monster in a chat room is roughly how they would react if told the kid had been doing the same thing in the classroom – they will either accept it, be grateful for the heads-up and address the problem or, as is likely, they will angrily slam the door shut and insist that their precious little princess could never do such a thing.

The thing is – they are.

And on a final note about the dangers facing young girls, be it the overt and incredibly unsexy, overt sexuality of Miley Cyrus or the scourge of internet bullying, ask yourself this – who is buying Miley Cyrus records?

Teenage girls.

Who is bullying teenage girls?

Teenage girls.

So who is at fault? Who is really to blame?

Um, not teenage girls, apparently.

Funny that.

Irish Independent

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