By: Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Did you see the YouTube video of the Minnesota dad defending his 14 year-old African-American daughter from racist Snapchat cyberbullies this week? It went viral and has over 7 million views!
Bradley Knudson’s daughter and her friend were sending Snapchat selfies to friends when freshman twin boys viewed them at a party and responded with racist, sexist giggling retorts like, “You’re such a s___. N_____. Who’s the fat a____ b___? Yes you are.”
Mr. and Mrs. Knudson were horrified and recorded the snaps. They then tried to contact the boys’ parents on several occasions, even knocking on their door. When the boys’ parents, the Puros, didn’t respond, Mr. Knudson went to the police. The police investigated and shared Deron Puro’s cell number with Bradley Knudson. Mr. Knudson left a message for the Puros, only to receive a series of verbally abusive responses such as, “Now you’re a n____ lover. You’re a fag. You’re a loser.” Mr. Knudson was furious and threatened to post the voicemails on YouTube. Mr. Puro reportedly replied, “I don’t care.”
Since that YouTube naming Mr. Puro, and the high school his boys attend, news reports state that Mr. Puro has lost his job and been admitted for detox from prescription pills and alcohol. The Puro family also released the following statement:
“The Puro family is not racist, nor do we use the “N” word lightly in our household. What happened was very unfortunate for both families, and we hope each family can heal and move on from this. There is no excuse for how Deron Puro acted, and nothing can take back the words he said to Brad Knudson.”
Due to my experiences as a mother, clinical psychologist, and professor at CSUCI, I created www.GetKidsInternetSafe.com to support kids and parents in exactly this kind of situation, which are increasingly epidemic in the currently largely unregulated online culture. As a result of my expertise, people come to me for my specialized GKIS parenting programs and informational support. In this capacity, I received an email from a good friend with this news report asking what I thought of Bradley Knudson’s posting. She said, “Isn’t this dad bullying back?”
Upon watching the video my heart goes out to Bradley and his daughter. He is clearly hurt and angry and has every reason to be. I’m a mother and I know the white hot rage that burns when somebody hurts my child. I TOTALLY GET IT.
And the racist and sexist verbal abuse that this beautiful teenage girl had to endure…my thoughts play like a slide show of the hundreds of cyberbully stories I have helped young people process in my clinical office. I ache with empathy for the pain kids experience at the hands of their impulsive peers; pain that becomes woven into the tapestry of how they view themselves, their bodies, their very identities. Like Mr. Knudson, I am angry at the permanent damage that is being inflicted on our kids over screen media.
But here’s the kicker; I also treat the cyberbullies. In fact, more times than not, the victims have retaliated or acted badly on social media themselves. Victims often respond by perpetrating back or passing the abuse to another peer. And so on, and so on, and so on. Each child becomes a desensitized and sometimes monstrous participant, usually under parents’ noses.
What do you think of Mr. Knudson’s choice to publicly air this incident?
He stated his intent for the Puros to “own” their racism. Considering the content of the statement released by the Puro family, that ownership simply did not happen. The children involved are now held up for public scrutiny for the public to debate this very real, very painful, and very common issue. The victims and cyberbullies will be forever paired with this shameful, brutal, and highly publicized incident.
I don’t vilify Mr. Knudson for making the decision he did. He tried civilized means of resolution only to be verbally assaulted himself. Furthermore, he had no way of knowing he would get 7 million views.
And my opinions about Mr. Puro? Clearly the man has serious substance abuse issues and wrestles with hate. My father taught me it is never OK to kick those who are already wounded. Assert myself, yes, but brutalize back, no. I’d like to think I wouldn’t make Mr. Knudson’s choice myself. But having addiction in my family has taught me the hard way that addicts can provoke the worst from us.
My passionate feelings about this incident have little to do with the parents actually and more to do with the children. These boys are 15 years old! They were at a party showing off for friends harassing girls they didn’t know. They were clearly raised with ignorance and hate and verbal abuse. They were likely taught that this behavior is what men do. And any 10 minute Internet surf session shows us that this revolting behavior is modeled to our kids hundreds of times a day online. These goofball boys’ split-second decision has resulted in the financial ruin and public humiliation of their entire family; a piercing punishment indeed for 30 seconds of poor judgment.
Here is what you and your kids need to know about the Internet:
The Internet Hates
The Internet hates privilege. It hates poverty. It hates women. It hates men. It hates puppies. It hates children. It hates race. It hates culture. It hates anybody and everybody, everywhere and all of the time. The Internet spews all that is inside of us. All that is vile, ugly, and hurtful. All that is loving, beautiful, and nurturing
And kids get mixed up. They are terrible at determining what is funny and what is brutal. Kids need to be taught humanity, generosity, and assertiveness. They need to be taught from those who most love and understand them, their family. They need to fail and succeed, only to fail again before they get it right.
And sadly, some parents are terrible at parenting. These parents need to be taught humanity, generosity, and assertiveness themselves. So many of us get lost in our jobs, our relationships, our finances, and our addictions. We all sometimes lose our way to some degree or another. We all need support and love and understanding to find our way back. Like our children, we need to fail and succeed, only to fail again before we get it right.
Mr. Knudson is clearly an intelligent and loving man. Was it his responsibility to teach Mr. Puro? Was it the police officers job? Perhaps school staff should have intervened more effectively?
I don’t know an easy answer to this. But I do know that our kids saw us buy an 86 year-old stranger and his wife their dinner this week for his birthday. We didn’t know him, and we asked that the server not point us out. But what a gift to us to see the old man light up when he was told about the gift. And to our delight, we watched the 20 year-old server love all on him (“He’s a regular!”) and then witness no fewer than six other people from the restaurant come and shake his hand.
Our kids watch us love on our pets, talk kindly of our neighbors, hug and kiss each other, and validate them when they feel hurt, angry, or confused about the actions of others. When they act terribly toward each other or others, we patiently reprimand them, encourage better problem solving, and reassure them that it’s ok to make mistakes if you learn from them. Anger, frustration, and remorse is normal and must be validated rather than shamed. We make sure they know our values and challenge them to develop opinions of their own. We are not perfect parents, but our kids absolutely know we are there to listen and support them through success and failure.
Please, in the wake of tragic news events like this one, do the world a favor and take the opportunity today to pay a little kindness forward to somebody in your life, stranger or kin. Love and education are how we spread kindness, not public shaming and humiliation. And please, most of all, protect and guide the children, cyberbullies and victims alike. Their prefrontal lobes are not done developing until they are 23 years old! We have to lovingly guide them knowing that perfection is not a reasonable expectation of anybody, especially of impulsive teens.
I created GetKidsInternetSafe to provide sensible, informed guidance to overwhelmed parents in the digital age. Please visit my website to receive valuable information that will help you and your family maneuver through today’s complex digital landscape. And as a special offer today, go to www.GetKidsInternetSafe.com/cyberbullyguide to download an article chock-full of useful information that will help you support your kids avoid and cope with the unfortunately brutal and common occurrences of cyberbullying.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting!
© 2015 Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission. Original article: YouTube Shaming Doesn’t Rehab the Cyberbully, But Kindness and Education Just Might.
Here’s the viral YouTube video in case you missed it:
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