Making Technology Safe for Your Kids

As we hear more distressing accounts of children using social media sites and other technology to cyber-bully other children, sometimes with shockingly tragic results, you can’t help but think that there’s got to be a way to make technology safer for kids.

Moms often try to control their children’s use of technology, but that can only go so far. As in the recent disturbing case of Rebecca, a 12-year-old-girl in Florida, her mother had taken away her cell phone and restricted her use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to protect her daughter from seeing nasty posts from a group of students who were targeting her daughter. But Rebecca later signed on to apps that the mother didn’t even know existed—such as, Kik and Voxer. And the cyberbullying started up all over again, ending in a terrible tragedy as Rebecca took her own life.

So how can a mother protect her child from threats such as cyberbullying? And how can a mother protect her child from the double-edged sword of new technology? While it is a plus to be able to reach your child by cell phone, it’s certainly not a plus that your kid can use the phone to log on to an increasing number of new apps that you cannot supervise.

Teachers, parents and students are banding together in outreach groups to stop the bullying, yet bullying and cyberbullying is more frequent than ever, according to the National Education Association.

It seems that as a society, we need to look deeper to the causes of bullying and abuse of technology in the first place. Like most social ills, bullying has its roots in stress.

Two things struck me when looking over the bullying statistics: Kids who are bullies are more likely to have been abused at home. And among students, homicide perpetrators were more than twice as likely as homicide victims to have been bullied by peers. So it becomes a vicious cycle, where kids who are bullied or abused become the bullies of the future.

If there were a way to stop the stress, stop the cycle mid-stream, it could dramatically reduce the incidents of bullying in school and online.

Some schools are adopting a radical new way to do just that, with promising results. The Transcendental Meditation technique is a proven way to reduce stress, and when introduced as “Quiet Time” in schools from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., it has been found to stop aggression, anger, violence and bullying among the students, as shown by a recent study conducted at the University of Connecticut and other research studies.

Yesterday I spoke to the head of Dhammajarinee Witthaya School in Thailand, which offers a free education for at-risk girls who are orphans or come from broken homes, are victims of poverty or natural disasters, are at risk for violence or sexual exploitation in their homes or on the street, or who have been kicked out from other schools due to their aggressive behavior. It is the only boarding school for at-risk girls in Thailand and now has 530 students.

Acharn Yai, a Buddhist nun who started the school with only 30 students in 2003 and introduced the Transcendental Meditation technique to the students in 2008, says, “As we know the students here have different kinds of problems so at times it is difficult to take care of them because their emotions are on edge. Because they are not happy they can be aggressive. Since they started TM, it becomes easier to take care of them. The aggressive behavior decreases, their grades go up and they pay attention to whatever we teach them. When they have inner happiness they soak up whatever knowledge we give, unlike before.”

One of the teachers at the school, Acharn Chakriya, told me about a student who was so aggressive that even the teachers were afraid of her. After she learned TM, this student became calmer and started helping the other students instead of bullying them. She took responsibility to sweep the floor so it would be clean for the younger students to sit on before meditation sessions, and became a real leader among the other girls.

It’s interesting to note that Transcendental Meditation is a technique, a technology that can help us and our kids to feel less stressed, calmer, more happy inside—and on that basis, to make better choices. It may be the only technology that is not a double-edged sword—so far, the research has shown only positive results. In fact, it may be the one technology that can help us to use all the other technologies in a positive, life-benefitting way for ourselves and those around us.

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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