Teen Techie, MLB Pitcher Get to the Root of Cyberbullying

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Cyberbullying is a serious problem thanks to the Internet, social media and anonymity. Which means you should probably not be naïve enough to think your kid hasn’t been exposed to it in some way.

Educators pay close attention to cyberbullying experts at the Military Child Education Coalition's 17th National Training Seminar. DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard

Educators pay close attention to cyberbullying experts at the Military Child Education Coalition’s 17th National Training Seminar. DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard

That was the message at a recent Military Child Education Coalition seminar that featured three very different people who all took action against cyberbullying – lawyer Ken Linzer, former MLB All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling and 15-year-old Trish Prabhu.

You might assume that a 15-year-old was there to discuss her first-hand experiences with cyberbullying, but that wasn’t Prabhu’s case. After hearing about the suicide of an 11-year-old Florida girl a few years ago, she realized current cyberbullying solutions weren’t cutting it. At 14, she created ReThink – anti-bully software that gets to the root of the problem.

As the panel’s moderator said, it’s kind of like spell check with a conscience.

“It’s able to detect when someone tries to post something offensive on social media and then alert them and go, ‘Hold on. Are you sure you want to post that? It could be offensive,'” Prabhu explained. “Then we just give them a simple choice: Do you still want to post it? Because you can. Or do you want to go back and edit your message?”

Prabhu said in a trial involving 1,500 adolescents, 93 percent of kids changed their minds about posting a potentially offensive message when given an extra five seconds to think about it.

“If you’re able to stop the cyberbullying before the posts even go out, you’re not only helping the victim. You’re helping the cyberbully build valuable skills they’ll use on and off social media,” Prabhu said.

Trisha Prabhu, 15, talks about her experiences with cyberbulling and how she's made a difference during the Military Child Education Coalition's 17th National Training Seminar in Washington, D.C.  DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard

Trisha Prabhu, 15, talks about her experiences with cyberbulling and how she’s made a difference during the Military Child Education Coalition’s 17th National Training Seminar in Washington, D.C. DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard

More of her research showed these stats:

  • 52 percent of U.S. adolescents reported being cyberbullied
  • Many involved in the study said they were too afraid to report it, which made the stat, realistically, more like 70-75 percent
  • 93 percent admitted to having seen some type of cyberbullying on social media
  • Only 4 percent of bystanders who have witnessed cyberbullying have spoken out against it

The other speakers at the event were also able to use their experiences to pass parents some useful knowledge. Linzer spent six months prosecuting a cyberbullying case, and Schilling – a three-time World Series winner – dealt with high-profile cyberbullying attacks on his daughter via social media.

Here are some of the important things they said you need to know:

*Kids should talk to their parents about being bullied, but most won’t.

According to Prabhu’s research, 90 percent of kids don’t tell their parents, mainly because it’s embarrassing and likely about something they might have done that mom and dad don’t know about.

*Parents need to be up on what their kids are doing online.

“That’s the new street corner. That’s the park. That’s where the kids hang out,” Schilling said.

Since kids aren’t talking to their parents, parents MUST start the conversation, however awkward it may be. Linzer said to give kids real-world examples of how cyberbullying affects them.

During the annual MCEC seminar, former MLB All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling discusses how his daughter was cyberbullied on social media. DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard

During the annual MCEC seminar, former MLB All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling discusses how his daughter was cyberbullied on social media. DoD photo by Marvin Lynchard

“Involve yourself in their videogaming activities, their social media. Even if they push you away, explain that actions have consequences, that they know you love them, and share a story or two,” he said.

Don’t think they’re NOT being exposed to bad influences and negativity.

“They’re going to make bad decisions and do dumb things,” Schilling said. “Making mistakes is part of life. Ruining other people’s lives isn’t.”

*Anonymity is a big part of the problem. 

Many bullies hide behind this. There are even websites to help send anonymous messages.

Anonymity is also used to dupe naïve kids. Schilling used his teenage son, who is on the autism spectrum and is comfortable on the Internet, as an example.

“He doesn’t grasp the concept that the 15-year-old girl who’s really interested in meeting him is a 40-year-old sex offender in L.A.,” the former pitcher said.

*Blocking cyberbullies doesn’t work.

“We’re making the victim block the cyberbully. We’re putting the burden on them instead of actually attacking the problem at the source, which is the bully,” Prabhu said. “Also, victims are embarrassed. They feel alone. They don’t want to have to block a cyberbully – that’s embarrassing.”

Cyberbullies can also just create another profile or page, and they’re right back at it.

*At the end of the day, the solutions start at home.

Schilling grew up a self-proclaimed military brat.

“I grew up the son of a man who knew the things that the military teaches young men – discipline, respect, honor, integrity, leadership,” he said. “I knew the difference between right and wrong when I was 12 years old. Everybody does. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t say stupid stuff.”

He said his dad instilled in him self-worth and good values, which helped.

“I tell my kids, ‘Do not ever let the opinion of someone you don’t know change who you are.'”

For more resources on cyberbullying, check out Stopbullying.gov.

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