Smut travels fast


published at http://CTNewsJunkie.com 3/24/11


Last week my daughter came home from school talking about fights in the student center.

The story keeps changing about what caused them, but they took place on the day the so-called “Smut List” made the rounds. This list contained the names of 99 female students, from high schools in Westchester County and Greenwich. It started as a mass Blackberry Messenger forward and then apparently, was posted on Facebook by a teen who claimed he didn’t make the list but made a facebook page with the list on it because people kept asking me to message them the list and i got tired of it.” (sic) The page, posted on Tuesday at 6:37 p.m.  got over 7,000 “likes”  in just over 24 hours before Facebook was pressured to take it down.

When I was a teenager, this kind of nastiness was confined to the walls of bathroom stalls.  But in today’s virtual world, such boundaries don’t exist. I read about the Westchester/Greenwich Smut list on the Daily Mail (UK) site. Smut travels fast.

So do stupid ideas amongst teenagers. Now there’s a Norwalk version of the Smut list, this time in the form of a You Tube video.

What’s telling are the responses from the principals of the affected high schools.  Dr. James Ruck, principal of Harrison High told MyFoxNY.com that the school is working on methods to curtail such list-making and punish the behavior: “For any youngster that was involved in doing it, you deserve the consequences that are coming to you. I can tell you, if it is someone in this school, we will press it to the fullest extent.”

Contrast this with Norwalk High School Principal Leonard Mecca, who, in an interview with Patch, basically threw up his hands and all but wrote it off to kids being kids.

“Principal Leonard Mecca says there’s nothing much different between today’s cyber-bullying and degrading notes that were passed around 30 years ago: It’s the same old hurtful, ridiculous kid stuff . . . Mecca said his school deals with recent cases of cyber-bullying about the same way schools 30 years ago dealt with the off-line version: Stop what you can and agree with those who complain that a hurtful thing has been done…For school officials, Mecca said, “There’s very little to do” in reaction to each specific case.”

I know which school I’d prefer my kid attend. The culture of a school starts at the top. My son was bullied in a Greenwich middle school where the principal (thankfully now retired) had very much the same attitude as Mr. Mecca. His grades suffered. Every day was torture. He became seriously depressed. I finally pulled him out of school towards the end of 8th grade and refused to send him back until they could provide him with a safe environment. Their solution? He finished his 8th grade year doing independent study in the guidance office — because it’s so much easier to punish the victim, rather than the perpetrators.

On Wednesdays, Raised Bill No. 1138 passed out of committee. Although there have been several sensationalistic headlines saying that Attorney General Jepsen testified for this bill to “criminalize” cyber bullying, that is something of a misrepresentation. What it would do is to incorporate cyber bullying into CT’s existing laws on school bullying – keeping our laws up with technology.

According to AG Jepsen: “It would be a warning to students that actions have consequences, in and out of school…As any parent knows, you can’t protect a child from all harm. School boards aren’t cyber police. But they can control what happens in school through limits on cellphone and computer use. They can help teach students through computer classes about how to protect themselves on the Internet. And they can create a climate that says bullying and harassment is wrong and won’t be tolerated in or out of school.”

Ultimately, though, I’m a firm believer that no law can replace proactive parenting. Our kids might run rings around us in the tech department, but we owe it to them to educate ourselves so that we can provide the same kinds of guidance parenting online that we do offline.

FBI Special Agent Christopher Munger will speak at the Arch Street Teen Center in Greenwich on Wednesday, April 27, at 7 p.m. on Internet Safety for All Ages. The free event is sponsored by Greenwich Pen Women and Arch Street.

The presentation will help students, parents, teachers and seniors understand the dynamics of the new digital frontier from both a safety and a legal perspective. It’s important for Internet users of all ages to recognize that there are real life consequences to everything one does online. For further information, call Arch Street Teen Center, 203-629-5744 or visit: http://www.archstreet.org or http://www.greenwichpenwomen.org.

Copyright Sarah Darer Littman 2013