What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this TV movie takes a realistic and thoughtful approach to the issue of online bullying as seen through the eyes of a teen victim. Though the social website at the heart of the story is fictional, its similarity to Facebook and the like is implied, so you can draw real-world parallels between the characters' interactions and what your teens find online. The emotional content touches on issues like homophobia and suicide, so be prepared to discuss these themes as well. There's some strong language ("ass" and "damn") and a lot of name-calling ("skank," "whore," "bitch"), both face-to-face and online, and teens talk about their own sexual experiences and their views on premarital sex. There are some positive messages about tolerance, standing up to peer pressure, and turning the tables on adversity, but the movie's serious tone makes it best for teens and up.
What's the story?
Taylor Hillridge (Emily Osment) is thrilled when her mom gives her a computer for her 17th birthday and entrusts her with unmonitored access to the Internet. At the encouragement of her best friend, Samantha (Kay Panabaker), Taylor joins a popular social site called Cliquesters and weighs in on her classmates' gossip. But she soon finds herself the target of some nasty comments from some of the girls in her class -- and eventually some blatant lies from a mysterious admirer. The situation spirals out of control, driving Taylor to a breaking point; it's only with the support of her mother, Kris (Kelly Rowan), and the help of other victims that she's able to overcome the emotional trauma of the experience and use it to effect changes that will help protect other teens.
Is it any good?
Relevant and thought-provoking, CYBERBULLY is a great jumping-off point for talking to teens about the very real dangers that exist online. The movie does a good job of working in most of the hot-button issues related to this topic, including the anonymity that exists online, the legal loopholes that enable cyberbullying, the social pressure on teens to partake in digital relationships, and the emotional devastation that bullying inflicts on its victims and their families. The story also looks at the situation from bystanders' point of view, showing how their indifference further enables the behavior and isolates victims.
There's some stereotyping among the characters (a posse of mean girls is at behind the bullying, and victims include a gay teen and an overweight girl), but a few plot twists serve as reminders that anyone is capable of contributing to the problem. It's true that the issue of online safety is as relevant to today's cyber-savvy younger kids as it is to teens, but this movie isn't the best way to introduce them to the subject due to its weighty subject matter, references to sexual relationships and STDs, and strong language. It is worth making a date to watch and discuss it with your teen, though; you might just be surprised at what you learn about this serious issue.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about online safety. Teens: What are your family's rules about using the Internet? Are there sites you're not allowed to visit? Why? How do these rules compare to your friends'? What are the dangers of sharing personal information online?
How has technology improved the quality of our lives? How has it changed how we communicate? Is there a downside to the fact that with cell phones and the Internet, we're always accessible?
Why is cyberbullying such a hot topic? Teens: Do you ever see this kind of behavior among people you know? Do you think it is exaggerated or underreported, or does the media portray it accurately? Have you been bullied or cyberbullied? What are your coping mechanisms?