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MySpace tragedy and 'helicopter parenting'

Megan Meier's suicide after being dumped by a fictitious MySpace boyfriend raises the specter that parents may be part of the online bullying problem. (parent.thesis) author Amy Tiemann tells them why it's vital to become part of the solution.

I've been searching for something intelligent to add to the discussion about Megan Meier, the 13-year-old girl who committed suicide after she was insulted and dumped by an "online boyfriend" on MySpace. The online persona "Josh" was actually a fictitious hoax created by an adult neighbor who was a mother of one of Megan's friends.

It's one of those senseless tragedies that is difficult to comprehend and put into any kind of perspective, especially seeing Megan's mother appear on The Today Show this week. Matt Lauer asked Tina Meier to speak out against the retaliatory online harassment toward the bullying neighbor, who has been publicly named. My heart broke seeing a grieving, outraged parent put on the spot as the one asked to rise above the cycle of violence. She clearly wasn't ready to do so, and it would have been a lot more productive to ask a more objective anti-bullying expert to speak out against the dangers of vigilantism.

I finally found an intelligent synthesis written by Judith Warner on her Domestic Disturbances blog. She links Megan Meier's bullying to the "helicopter parenting" phenomenon.

Warner says, "...for me the tragedy highlighted another troubling issue that threatens our homes just as steadily as poisonous online communications. That is the disturbing degree to which today's parents--and mothers in particular--frequently lose themselves when they get caught up in trying to smooth out, or steamroll over, the social challenges faced by their children."

It's hard to believe that parents are participating in bullying behavior rather than stopping it. We have lost our sense of perspective and adult responsibility. Warner concludes,

"...We have all caught ourselves spending a little too much time worrying about (or gloating over) our children's popularity. We spend a lot of time feeling our children's pain and put a lot of thought into shaping their world to offer them the greatest possible degree of happiness. But our kids really need something much bigger from us than that. They desperately need us to grow up."

The dangers of online bullying for victims are well-documented. For those adults who are unmoved by the fact that bullying is just plain wrong, they should study the article by Linda Criddle about the harmful effects of bullying on the bully. Criddle says, "in fact, the act of bullying may be nearly as damaging to the bully as to the person being bullied, and if common decency isn't a motivator then this may be the single most compelling reason for bullies (or their parents) to reconsider their actions and attitudes."

Bullies themselves are at risk for future violence, drug use, crime and suicide. Criddle cites research that shows that 60% of boys who were classified as bullies in grades 6-9 were convicted of at least one crime by age 24. Stopping bullying is in everyone's best interest, even the perpetrator's.