As the internet is becoming an increasingly hostile place, we can do our bit to help reduce the negativity by educating our children about cyberbullying.
by Joshua George
The ability of human beings to take something potentially helpful and turn it into a weapon is quite a remarkable phenomenon. Be it turning tools into weapons we used against each other, or using nuclear fission to make bombs, or turning the internet into a desolate place filled with vile, hateful insults pouring out from anonymous accounts.
Humanity is often touted as a wonderful thing, with activities decrying cruelty making appeals to people’s humanity, but the truth is that humanity is often a terrible thing, and the vicious destructiveness of human beings is often unparalleled by other species. That destructiveness has migrated to the cyberspace as well.
As crueler cases of cyberbullying come to light, often with children involved against their peers, we must ask ourselves what we’re doing to help our kids mitigate the negative online atmosphere, even as the next generation is born into dual realities – the physical one and the online one.
It may be a while before education catches up to teaching children online etiquette, but at a familial level, we have the power to teach our children about the basics of online interaction in order to equip them to deal with bullying comments and also to keep them from adding fuel to the fire. Here are some ways to help educate your childrenabout the importance of online etiquette:
1. Ask them if they would be comfortable with everyone who knows them reading their posts
Sometimes we tend to rant online about our friends, teachers, peers, or random people we encounter on a daily basis without paying much heed to the consequences of what would happen if they ever read our post complaining about them.
Even cracking an insensitive joke may seem harmless at the moment, until the person it’s about, reads it and gets upset. If your child wants to post a diatribe against someone who wronged them, ask them how awkward it would be if the person read their post.
Nine out of ten children would agree that the last person they would want to see their post is the person about whom they’re writing. Setting the post to “private” wouldn’t help matters either. Encourage your child not to have these thoughts circulating on the internet, to begin with, so that it doesn’t come back to haunt them later.
2. Get them to think about the purpose behind posting a negative or potentially offensive comment
Sometimes, we feel the need to express ourselves and get certain thoughts out of our systems, but by releasing those thoughts into the very public sphere of social media, we can invite trouble – either in the form of retaliation or in the form of other negative people who want to tear us down.
There are a number of alternatives that your teen can think about before hitting the ‘send’ button. Ask them if they’re angry with someone, why not just directly message the person. Will telling all their friends on social media help resolve the issue or make things right?
If they’re upset or sad about something and want to pour out their deepest thoughts to someone, would they be okay with complete strangers reading about those thoughts and responding to them? While there are a number of wonderful people out there who are willing to help struggling strangers, there are also a lot of terrible people who would love to see people hurt more.
Another thing that people often don’t realize is that when they crack a joke at the expense of a certain group or minority, they are inevitably alienating the people they’re mocking at. Such jokes, as difficult as they are to keep to oneself, are better off sent to a friend who your child knows will appreciate the humor in them. (Eventually getting your child to stop making such jokes is another conversation altogether.)
3. Always get them to address a bully personally rather than publicly
Imagine that your child is the target of one of these harmful or mocking posts. As a parent, you are already all riled up about this and are ready to take on the bully with whatever force you deem necessary. Quite often, you will directly talk to the bully and try to address it personally.
Children may not always have the courage to directly confront someone who is bullying them online. They may seek out the support of their friends to call the person out online. If the person truly did not mean to hurt them, then that person now has to face the ire of a whole bunch of people and ends up being bullied instead.
Getting your teen to address a bully directly may help resolve things much more effectively. Also, the bully may be less likely to be defensive or feel attacked. When there is a conversation expressing why something offended or hurt them, the bully may be more likely to agree than getting into a comment war.
4. Teach your teen that the best response is no response
It is the natural instinct of a social animal to see a crowd and participate in whatever they are doing. Such a mob mentality does not just drive real-life interactions, but it also works online, when people see a war raging in the comments section and feel like diving right in.
Getting your teens to exercise restraint every time they see people slinging mud at each other on social media can keep them out of trouble and also prevent them from spending their energy and time online in fruitless pursuits. People rarely learn from such interactions, and they only end up feeling more frustrated than before.
The same principle applies to when there is a direct and personal attack on your teen. The need to respond immediately and confront the attacker is often overwhelming, but choosing not to say anything often deflates the trolls’ motivation to keep posting.
Some people bully others online only to elicit a negative response, and teaching your teen not to fuel them by reacting can help them disengage from their trolls. Instead of replying or defending themselves, your teens could instead report the comment or block the bullies, thus removing themselves from the conflict.