Teachable Moments Aren’t Always Pretty

The recent Internet videotape of six girls beating up a 16-year-old resulted in a national outcry and call for a ban on online shock videos that “desensitize” kids to violence.

But Michael Josephson, founder of Josephson Institute and CHARACTER COUNTS!, disagrees.

“The fact that we’re able to see it is a good thing,” he told The Baltimore Sun shortly after the incident. “It is so ugly, so inhumane, so enormously powerful, I would play it in my class again and again and be absolutely unequivocal about how unacceptable this is. It is the ultimate teachable moment.”

Instilling values and controlling behavior is more complicated than a lecture, Josephson said. “You can talk to kids about bullying. But seeing it, watching it, that changes the conversation.”

What triggered the latest incident, according to police, was when the 16-year-old victim trash-talked about the other girls on her MySpace page. Her targets decided to beat her up, tape it, and post that on MySpace. The victim suffered a concussion, eye damage, dizziness, and continuing nightmares from the 35-minute pummeling.

The six assailants, plus two boys who guarded the door as lookouts, could be sentenced to up to 10 years each in state prison. Three of the teens also face kidnapping charges that could add 15 more years.

Since the videotaped beating, there already has been one copycat incident in which a group of middle-school girls beat up a 12-year-old schoolmate and posted it on the Web.

Josephson said it’s up to parents, teachers, and coaches to look for signs of bullying and hazing and to stop it – whether by education, persuasion, or coercion is unimportant. “There is mutual accountability here. That’s the healthiest part of this, the power of the picture. It doesn’t change the reality, but it gave us all an understanding of reality we didn’t have before.”