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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
South Tampa News

O’Neill: Best guidance for cyber life begins at home


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A suicide. A traffic fatality.

These days they can be variations on the same theme. What has technology wrought? How are adults in charge responding?

Let’s start with the suicide, or at least the most recent one — that of 12-year old Rebecca Ann Sedwick of Lakeland. She tragically took her own life after more than a year of constant bullying, most of it of the cyber sort. She was targeted by more than a dozen girls lethally wielding social-media applications. “Go kill yourself” and “Why are you still alive?” were among the rhetorically devastating assaults aimed at the pre-teen.

Since such bullying is no longer a societal shock, law enforcement has been adjusting. Florida now has an antibullying law that includes cyberbullying. Among the charges that could ultimately be brought in the Sedwick case: felony cyberstalking. It’s a prosecutorial option when the victim is younger than 16.

It’s likely that a higher-profile educational campaign about cyberbullying and cyberstalking would help, especially when the consequences — deaths and arrests — are underscored. But that deals with only half of the equation: societal threats amid our protean technologies. The ubiquity and anonymity of social media is a daunting 21st century challenge.

What also needs confronting is more, well, old school in concept. Some things, we know, haven’t changed about raising kids — even in a cyber society. “Kids can be cruel” has been acknowledged since time immemorial. Only cruelty has now transcended immaturity and insensitivity and morphed into the unconscionable. Stalking-and-bullying isn’t merely an updated version of “girls-will-be-girls” or “boys-will-be-boys.” We’re now talking about hateful, disgustingly vile, life-endangering behaviors — seemingly accompanied by Internet impunity.

Something has gone terribly wrong — and untaught — at home. The implications have never been more dire. Retreating to Plato’s cave is not an option for victims.

Put it this way: As child-rearing becomes ever more challenging — with potential consequences ever more life-altering — the onus is on adults in charge to be better parents. Where there’s an Internet, there’s also an Internot. It’s never been more necessary to spend quality time with those they are responsible for — not just helicoptering them about for self-esteem activities.

As for traffic-fatality scenarios, the message not to text and drive obviously has to be reinforced at home, at school and in the state Legislature. It hasn’t helped that Florida hasn’t had a law banning the practice until later this year (Oct. 1). But that law does the absolute minimum.

A texting-while-driving violation will be a “secondary” offense. And drivers, including teens, can still text at a red light, which will change color in a blink. Or in hands-off, high-tech cars — as if “hands-off” guaranteed “brain’s on.” By the way, the TWD penalty is $30 plus court costs for a first offense and $60 for a second offense, which is still far cheaper than a ticket for a gotcha, rolling right-hand turn caught by a red-light camera.

David Teater, senior director of the National Safety Council, has characterized Florida’s secondary-offense ban of texting while driving as “worthless.”

“The state is telling kids that you can text as long as you don’t do anything else wrong,” he points out. “The degree of risk involved in driving while texting is similar to drunk driving, speeding and reckless driving — and it’s a ‘secondary’ offense?’”

As if only “secondary” lives — of drivers, passengers and oncoming motorists — were in jeopardy.

No wonder the state — via Gov. Rick Scott’s veto — never even bothered to allocate the proposed $1 million to promote the new — “secondary” — law. In so many ways, Florida has been saying that texting while driving is not really a primary concern.

No fishing, no argument

As a non-angler, I know I don’t totally get it, but I fail to see why fishing off the new Courtney Campbell Causeway pedestrian walkway was ever an issue. We’re surrounded by water. There are plenty of places to fish. Why even consider that an over-the-water trail for walking, jogging and biking would serve common purpose with those packing hooks and casting lines? The Florida DOT did the sensible, safety-first thing by posting those “No fishing from bridge” signs.

USF can’t ignore UCF

I’m one of those USF fans (as well as an alum and a former media relations manager) who feels blind-sided by what has happened to the football program. The rap against founding head coach Jim Leavitt was that, however successful, he couldn’t get USF to the next level, which was winning a league championship and going to a BCS bowl. It certifiably wasn’t happening. But under Skip Holtz — and now three games into the Willie Taggart era — the program has embarrassingly devolved. Imagine, it was barely two years (Sept. 3, 2011) ago that the Bulls upset Notre Dame — NOTRE DAME! — in Touchdown Jesus, Ind., and have gone 7-19 since.

And after an 0-3 start that includes RayJay losses to the likes of McNeese State and Florida Atlantic — and Miami looming next — the Bulls are looking at a likely third consecutive losing season. Plus, back on the schedule is the University of Central Florida, the school that USF wouldn’t deign to play after their four-year contract expired, but now is a fellow member of the new American Athletic Conference. While winless USF was losing to FAU last week, undefeated UCF was knocking off Penn State. The Bulls and Knights meet in late November in Orlando. And the school that once felt it was slumming to play UCF could likely find itself the second-best team in the I-4 Corridor.

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