Kids have probably been bullying each other since prehistoric days. But cave children didn’t have text messaging, social media and the World Wide Web to harass each other. Those technologies have added new dimensions — and dangers — to growing up in the 21st century.
“The kids in junior high and high school now are the first generation in world history to be born into social media,” filmmaker Doug Cembellin said.
Cembellin’s 2012 documentary short “Cyberbullied” is being presented Sunday by the Gig Harbor Film Festival and Peninsula School District. The 20-minute film will be followed by a forum featuring Cembellin and a university student who experienced cyberbullying during high school. Local counselors and educators will discuss efforts to intervene at school and how to address cyberbullying and Internet safety at home.
Cembellin, 39, made the film as his graduate thesis at the University of Southern California. The filmmaker, artist and educator follows three middle and high school student victims as he explores the devastating effects of cyberbullying. Students, parents and educators are interviewed.
Though the film was made just last year, some things already have changed on the cyber landscape, Cembellin said.
“Myspace is not nearly as relevant as it once was, when we were making the film,” Cembellin said, but it’s simply lost ground to Facebook.
There’s also been increased legislation around the country that’s focused on supporting the victims of and preventing cyberbullying.
“All the way to the White House, there’s been a general awareness and an education to prevent cyberbullying,” Cembellin said.
Though bullying is an age-old problem, there is a distinct difference from the days of the schoolyard bully.
“The new face of bullying has no face at all,” Cembellin said.
He asks adults to compare their childhood with those of children today.
“Think about your life in junior high school. Your life consisted of going to school, playing with friends, going to the mall, church, baseball practice. The same is true today, but the difference is, when you went home you were safe. But now at the bus stop, they are texting you on the phone. You open up Facebook and they are bullying you there. It’s constantly in the child’s face. They are processing and dealing with this with an adolescent mind,” Cembellin said.
Bullies get no feedback, no immediate punishment or regret for what they have done, he said.
“There’s no sense of accountability. They type whatever is in their mind and they hit ‘send.’ They are posting it on the World Wide Web where everyone can see it,” Cembellin said.
And that public posting leads to more bullying: “It’s like a pack of wolves. They smell blood and they attack.”
The result? Self-harm as a coping mechanism, and suicide has spiked, Cembellin said.
Furthermore, the written word often can be misinterpreted. “They do not carry tone of voice,” he said.
Victims can be targeted for any reason, but often it’s for the simple crime of being different: sexual orientation, weight, race.
“It’s the exact same things people have been bullied for since the beginning of time, only now the bullies have a whole new set of tools,” Cembellin said.
The attacks can be overt or calculated “mean girl” style. “They’ll not invite one friend (to an event) and then post pictures online,” he said.
The problem is not just a problem in the adolescent world. An office worker can “accidentally” hit “send all” on an embarrassing email or post comments in an online forum.
Cembellin said 165,000 kids miss school each day because they are being bullied or for fear of being bullied. And 55 percent of all teens being cyberbullied do not tell their parents.
The end of cyberbullying begins with its perpetrators, Cembellin said.
“Ask yourself: If your mom was looking over your shoulder and seeing what you are writing, would she approve?”
When: Two viewings Sunday— middle school: 4–5 p.m.; high school: 5:30–6:30 p.m.
Where: Galaxy Theatre Uptown, 4649 Point Fosdick Drive NW, Gig Harbor
Information: 253-851-3456, gigharbor filmfestival.orgCraig Sailor: 253-597-8541 craig.sailor@ thenewstribune.com