Whenever I see these headlines about youth taking their lives and the word bullying or cyberbullying attached to it, I want to cringe.
The fact is, it’s sad we need headlines to remind us to continue to be kind to others, to continue to discuss with our children as well as our friends and colleagues about the importance of being an upstander when you see someone being shamed online and most importantly — it’s a reminder that this digital cruelty is not going away anytime soon.
The fact is – there is a live person on the other-side of the screen. Whether it is a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet or a PC – you have the potential to destroy someone’s life with your keypad. Yes, keystrokes (a click of a mouse) have become a deadly weapon at all ages – and in many cases – it’s completely legal.
In a PEW Study, researchers said that online harassment will only get worse in the next decade. Unlike finding a cure for cancer or polio, cyberbullying and digital abuse is a human behavior and it’s almost impossible to say we can control every person with a gadget.
We now live in a society where the majority of people live their lives online. This includes grownups too. I am firm believer that we can’t exclude parents from the way they are behaving online as well as their lack of understanding their role in educating their kids and teens on empathy, cyberbullying awareness and online safety and security.
Cyberbullying is a concern for everyone and if you believe it can’t happen to you, you are sorely mistaken. No one is immune to cyber-bullets – and the worse part about online shaming is it can happen when you least expect it and from a person that you thought was a friend.
We can focus on cyberbullying rising or we can empower ourselves to be upstanders for not only our family, but for others we see that are struggling online.
Parents need to make time, maybe weekly to learn something new as it pertains to online safety, security and digital leadership (this includes cyberbullying prevention and awareness). This doesn’t replace your regular chats with your kids on cyber-life. It can enhance it. Some great sites to get resources from:
- Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)
- Common Sense
- Cyberbullying Research Center
- Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
We turn to kids, tweens and teens who spend the majority of their time connected. Sure I could repeat all those PEW stats, but you already know – our kids have their smartphones sewn into the palm of their hand! This is the first thing parents need to address.
Boundaries — and this goes for parents too. Un-stitch that phone from the palm of their hand, especially during meals and at bedtime. I shouldn’t have to mention – while driving! The catch… that means “parents” too!
Parents have to lead by example. It’s that simple. (Well, not really), but it should be.
So what can kids do? Lead by example too!
Reminding your child that someone is watching their posts, keystrokes and their comments – they are potentially someone’s mentor whether they realize it or not. It could be their younger sibling, it could be their cousin or a neighbor that looks up to them.
In a post for Gaggle, I wrote about being a Cyber-Mentor. This is a role for all ages, and one that can benefit each party. It can help reduce cyberbullying and help give your child a support online when they feel hopeless – they have a peer that understands them.
Yes, cyberbullying might be rising, but let’s start talking about how upstanders and kindness online is growing too. Talking is great, but let’s start doing something.
It’s more than wearing t-shirts, wristbands or even singing songs – it’s about literally reaching out online when you see that cyber-bullet strike. It’s about sending a message of support to that person when you see that the are being humiliated or embarrassed. It’s about publicly saying to others – “that is wrong.” It’s about standing up against online shaming – not only talking to others about it, but doing something about it.
Parents that assume their kids would never do that – or that their kids could never be a victim of cyberbullies, please don’t be that naive. No one is immune. No one.
Doing more than talking about it:
In conclusion: Cyberbullying and online hate is on the rise. We will combat it through empathy and kindness. Parents and their children need to start engaging in more conversations and role playing about this important topic as well as other digital trends. Turning the talk into action!
Eventually we will see headlines saying: Upstanders on the Rise!
For more information on preventing, surviving and overcoming online hate, order Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate (Sourcebooks) from your favorite bookstore today.