Public Shaming and Public Humiliation before Cyberbullying: Taking a moment to look back and an opportunity for cultural change and what parents can learn.
As technology changes, bringing in newly defined terms such as cyberbulling, cyberstalking, etc, but before these terms and existing technology existed, public shaming and humiliation still occurred having similar negative consequences. It was not until I heard Monica Lewinski speak on TedTalk and after my 12 years of doing research in this area, that made this recall of my own thoughts and experience while at The White House during that time.
In 1998 I had the fortunate opportunity to have interned in The White House while I was pursuing my graduate degree in public health from George Washington University. While my position as an "intern" was amazing I was only an intern and while I did have the opportunity to have met former President Clinton at the time, it was truly a rewarding experience. Although this was my second opportunity providing a voluntary work at The White House but this time was different. I recall one morning before I received my identification badge and had to enter through the security gate. This particular morning was the fourth day being crowded with media reporters waiting for their clearance. I was there in my suit like most are dressed formally in Washington DC and I overheard two reporters talking saying "it must be a zoo in there, wild, crazy". I was only an intern and did not want to participate in pointless conversation. However I thought to myself “if you only knew, inside it is professional, respectful and the most hard working environment I have ever worked”. I did not speak much about me interning at The White House, other than my immediate family, not even to my colleagues. But honestly, with the amount of negative media and internet attention the situation was gaining, I did not want any needless attention.
There were many interns at The White House and I did not work with Monica Lewinski, nor did I ever meet her. Obviously she had a much different level of internship at The White House. With my position, I only spent every Friday there with my internship work. When I did hear of her name was only in the news. Hearing words that were so hurtful and unprofessional that even at that time in my career, I felt were uncalled for, disrespectful and damaging. When I would be out with colleagues we would hear jokes about her which were degrading and unfair. Although they had a right to express their own opinion. But this was more than an opinion it was harmful. Eventually email lists and jokes at the time were similar. While I did not know how this affected her personally, I did know she was young and this could damage her reputation and have negative psychological consequences.
As time went on, I finished my internship, research and graduated. I began a full time position as a behavioral scientist in public health. At the time part of my work was a technical adviser with the Child and Adolescent Suicide Death Review Team where we reviewed suicide related death cases for the coroner to assist in determination and assist in the development of prevention programs. I worked with the team for 12 years and most of the child and adolescent suicides were due to dysfunction in the home and bullying. It was not until recently that I heard Monica Lewinski speak on Ted Talk, that I began to think of that incident back in 1998. Hearing her speak confirmed of what I thought at that time, and what I learned over my 12 years doing research and being part of the death review team. Hearing her speak confirmed her view of a 22 year old girl and at that time I recalled of no adult or professional of ever considering how their words they used against her would affect her at such a young age in her college career or future. With my background in cognitive neuroscience and research on the adolescent brain, her brain was in a late development stage which upon such exposure could have traumatic effects. Further with brain development regardless of age the brain is plastic and adapts to respond to its environment. Looking back, I recall professionals and adults publicly shaming her resulting in further trauma. And at the time what she needed were healthy adults and professionals in her life to model for her how to respond and show guidance. Unfortunately she got worldwide attention because of her internship position and relationship with the President of the United States, from websites to emails defining and judging her worldwide within days that continued and continued.
When Monica Lewinski speaks on TedTalk one can observe how she felt and while at the time it was cyberbulling even though this term was yet to be defined. While social media platforms of today did not exist then, internet websites and email did, which is how most of the public slamming was widely spread. As adults, our behaviors are often modeled to those younger. It is up to us adults to take those who are younger into account before we react and instead respond appropriately. In the blog "An Apology: How I Failed Monica Lewinsky" provides an excellent example of how one can take responsibility for past behavior. Once we take responsibility for our own behavior we not only learn of ourselves but also model such positive behaviors to those younger. Whether students or young professionals, we can begin to change social norms. Take a moment to listen to Monica Lewinski on Ted Talk
and read the Blog, from HopeLab