"Boys will be boys."
"Girls are just nasty to each other."
"It takes tough people to make it in this world."
Those are all examples of the kinds of statements -- and attitudes -- that need to be eliminated if we truly hope to reduce the problem of bullying, said Anthony Pierro, supervising assistant prosecutor in the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office's Juvenile Justice Division, as he addressed a gathering of parents, educators and members of law enforcement at the Ocean County Library on Thursday night.
Entitled "Cyberbullying: What You Need to Know as a Parent" and presented by the Ocean County Human Relations Commission, the program aimed to give parents a sense of the way and the kinds of bullying that go on with children and teenagers in 2011.
"We have to rid our brains of the idea that this toughens you up," Pierro said, because bullying is simply wrong.
While bullying has become more visible because of high-profile cases such as those of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi and Missouri teen Megan Meier, both of whom committed suicide in the wake of cyberbullying, Pierro and Detective James Hill, a supervisor in the high-tech crimes unit of the prosecutor's office, said they aren't sure they've seen a dramatic increase in the amount of bullying that goes on these days. Hill did say, however, that it's happening at younger and younger ages.
Part of the problem, Pierro and Hill said, is that because this generation's children are growing up with technology, they are far more savvy about how to use it, while at the same time not understanding the power that is in the technology they use.
"They don't see the boy crying himself to sleep every night after being bullied," Pierro said. "They don't know about the girl who kicks and screams about going to school because she doesn't want to be picked on for another day."
Pierro related a story of a school where he'd been asked to give a bullying presentation, where the principal warned him upon his arrival of a girl who was continually disruptive -- she had to be carried onto the bus to school in the morning, carried off the bus into school when she arrived, and was continuously in trouble for being disruptive in class.
At the end of his presentation, Pierro said, the girl -- a first-grader -- approached him and thanked him for coming. And then she told him how she hated being at that school. It turned out that the little girl had her hair pulled repeatedly every day by another student in class -- a problem that had gone on since kindergarten -- and when the girl reported it to her teacher, the teacher blamed her for being disruptive.
"We have to correct those attitudes," he said.
The presentation included a showing of the film "Sticks and Stones," a solemn portrayal of a shy teen boy who becomes friendly with a girl who is among the more popular students at school, and the scenario that unfolds when the girl's boyfriend discovers the shy boy is interested in her. The movie ends with the young man's suicide and his parents packing away his belongings.
The film, which was created in 2009 by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, is a powerful commentary on cyberbullying and the behaviors of teens, but also a cautionary tale for parents, laden with moments that give you much to consider about common issues: supervision, privacy, alcohol use and, of course, when and how much access they have to the various types of technology. In the film, the teens have computers in their rooms and cell phones and both are used in the bullying that goes on in the film.
While some would be quick to blame technology, the technology isn't the problem, officials said.
"We don't want parents going home and throwing the computer in the trash," Pierro said."The computer is a tool in doing these things, but it's not the cause."
Besides, said Earl Mosely, the anti-bullying coordinator in the Brick Township School District, "It's not the computer any more that's the biggest problem; it's the phone."
Because the technology is so widespread and because this generation of children are growing up with it, adults need to be proactive and wise about the use of it.
"Are parents utilizing it as a babysitting tool, the way our parents used television?" asked Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford.
"It's an ever-changing climate that we're dealing with," said Trooper Adam Polhemus, a school resource trooper in Seneca High School.
That's why education is critical to solving the problem, Pierro said.
"We have to educate them (the children) on how to use it (the technology) and be aware of what they're doing," he said. "They need to understand that what they do through the use of that technology can be very hurtful," he said.
Pierro said one thing he believes will help foster a change in attitudes is the change in the laws that include the word "emotional" when describing harassment laws that target bullying behavior.
But in the end, it comes back to the parents, several of those in attendance said.
"You have to be proactive," Polhemus said. "You have to be invested in those lives," not only from the aspect of the kids who are victims of bullies, but of those who are doing the bullying.
"Parents have to be educated about why these things are wrong," Polhemus said.
"We are now the people who can stop this stuff," Pierro said. "We are in this together."
More about "Sticks & Stones"
The film, "Sticks & Stones," funded by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office with money forfeited in criminal ventures, was conceived by the Park Ridge Police Department to address the issues of cyberbullying in particular.
Because of the intense nature of the storyline -- that ends with the boy's suicide after a harrowing exchange of instant messages with a person he believes to be the popular girl he's fallen in love with -- the film is only released to schools after those presenting it go through a training program that prepares them to address the multitude of issues involved.
It includes a detailed, 85-page curriculum guide that breaks down a variety of issues raised in the film.
They also require that schools have grief counselors on hand to assist students after the film has been shown, to address the suicide specifically and other issues in general.
For more information, visit www.cweducation.com/SticksStones.html