Facebook remains in the news this week, only this time the feature story wasn’t the IPO debacle. Instead while at a mall a Florida mother, Debbie Piscitella, was arrested after choking a fourteen-year-old boy who had allegedly been terrorizing her daughter on Facebook.
In Piscitella’s own words, “I just snapped. Yes I shouldn’t have done that, but you all do not even come close to understanding all the torment they have put my child through.” And according to the NY Daily News, Piscitella said the boy wrote “disgusting” comments below a photo of her daughter, calling her “a fat f—ing whale” who “didn’t deserve to live because she is so nasty that he wouldn’t even rape her.” I’m not going to defend her actions. She was wrong—dead wrong—to choke a boy. But I do understand the emotions overwhelming her. I would feel the same about anyone hurting one of my loved ones.
Would I stop short of choking a teenager? I’d like to think so, but hope that’s a question I’ll never have to answer. What really raised questions in my mind was not Piscitella’s behavior at that moment, but how the bullying was being handled.
Before the mall incident, the girl’s father reportedly reached out to the bullying student to ask him to stop and was met with obscenities in response. Okay, obviously that tactic did not work and I’m not surprised. In the boy’s mind, online could equate to being impervious to repercussions. But why didn’t the Piscitellas reach out to the bully’s parents (the Tiptons) and bring the matter to their attention? Maybe the Tiptons were unaware of their child’s behavior. Maybe the Tiptons were aware and didn’t care. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the situation was one that should have been dealt with adult to adult and not adult to child.
The next question is: where are the boy’s parents involvement in all of this? It sounds as if the situation had been ongoing for awhile. How is it that a fourteen-year-old has an account which is not monitored by his parents? Did his parents know about the account? If not, then I will cut them a little slack for not being involved with what their son was doing, although it doesn’t absolve them from all responsibility. But if he had an account with their permission, then what happened to their due diligence in monitoring on an occasional basis what his interactions were with other kids online. This should be done for the safety of their son if for no other reason.
As a result of the incident, the Piscitella’s took down their daughter’s Facebook page, which is understandable. They wanted to protect her from any further backlash which might be directed at her after her mother choked her bully. Tipton’s lack of involvement is evidenced in her statement that she didn’t have a chance to see her son’s comments before they were removed. One commenter stated: “The boy’s mother needs to get involved and restrict her son from writing weird stuff on Facebook.” I believe there needs to be a little more involvement than restricting the boy from writing weird stuff…the mentality that allows someone to bully another is something that needs to be addressed on a much deeper level.
And while some will cry that teens deserve their privacy as they are becoming adults, I’ll agree with a caveat—they deserve such privacy as they have earned. And at fourteen, total privacy has not been earned… even for the best kid on earth. Not necessarily because of what the kid might be doing, but there are some nasty people in this world of ours and for their own safety they need to be monitored to ensure that they have an adult’s guidance when dealing with situations beyond their abilities. AND if all parents monitored their kids online activities on a regular basis, don’t you think we’d see a decrease in cyber-bullying?
I’m not naive enough to believe that parental involvement will solve the cyber-bullying issue. Some kids will create accounts their parents don’t know about, but not all will, and most will give thought to what they are posting if they know that mom or dad may be taking a peek. Do kids need an avenue to express their thoughts and feelings? Absolutely. But not at the cost of others, and this is what we must stop.