42% of kids report having been the victim of some form of cyberbullying reports Family Internet Safety Advocate, Sue Scheff. In the past decade, parents and educators have become increasingly aware of this staggering statistic, and bullying prevention programs have been written in response. But there’s a fault in these programs.
Saying STOP Is Difficult To Do
This is the crux of the problem. We tell our kids that being a bystander is just as bad as being the bully and that they should stand up to cyberbullying, but we don’t teach them how to do this. And the truth is that this is very, very hard to do—as an adult and as a kid.
My Own Brush With Cyberbullying
I’m a freelance writer so last year, after my twelfth wedding anniversary, I wrote a neat and tidy article, “12 Things Happily Married Women Know.” The comments that came in on it weren’t about marriage, they were about my weight and how fat I looked in my wedding dress. I was devastated. It took me months to move past this sadness and get to a place where I could call out my cyberbullies and stand up for myself. When I did, it was in a second article, “I Wrote An Article About Marriage And All Anyone Noticed Is That I’m Fat.” In it, I said two simple things: don’t talk about other people’s bodies and let’s be kinder to each other online. That article went viral and from it, I landed a book deal for a book on how to teach our kids to be kind online. Some days I call this “just desserts.” Other days I call it, “taking lemons and making lemonade.”
Our Kids Can Do Hard Things—But They Need Our Help
Either way, having this experience really shed a light for me on what a difficult task we’re asking our kids to take on when we say stand up to bullies and never be a bystander. This was tricky for me to do as an adult, I can only imagine how hard it must be for kids.
What Cyberbullying Looks Like
Cyberbullying isn’t all that different from the bullying of our youth. The Internet is simply the vehicle that bullying is delivered in. Online sites have become a modern playground where plays for popularity are made and thwarted. Cyberbullying comes in the form of direct cruelty and insults as well as more subtle things including exclusion and online “games” kids play.
What Our Kids Really Need: Direct Lessons + Practice
The best way to help our kids maneuver this new terrain is to start direct conversations with them about what they’ll see online and what they’ll do about it. When it comes to standing up to cyberbullying behavior, kids need words that sound like them.
That’s mean. Not touching that. Not cool.
Maybe. When I asked my own daughters what they would say if they came across an online “game” such as “Tag Who You Want Out” where a set of kids’ photos are posted and followers are asked to tag who they want to “vote out,” their thoughts were different from mine, and equally effective in defusing a negative “game” or comment thread. They flipped the conversation to a positive.
I love them all so much! I can’t choose, they’re all GREAT! I’ll keep you all! xoxo
Ensuring That Kindness Wins
More often than not our kids’ hearts are so very good. My daughters showed this in spades with their positive responses and I don’t think they’re unique in this. Our kids know what’s right and they see what’s right in this world and the people in it. What they need to hear from us is that their instincts are right, their voices are worthy, and they should be heard.
What You Can Do Today
We can do this by sitting down with our kids and looking at real comment threads. Practice what they’ll say (type) in response if their goal is to stop a behavior, and what they’ll say (type) if they want to defuse a situation. Somebody can make a difference by standing up for kindness—why not them? Teach them to be that kid. Once we’ve practiced these kinds of responses with them, they’ll be available to our kids and ready to use. They’ll be on the tip of their fast-typing fingers, exactly where we want them to be.
Three Takeaways For Our Kids
- Scrolling when you see online bullying is the equivalent of walking away when you see it in person.
- Saying “Stop” to a bully is hard. Saying “Stop” to a friend is harder. Kids need defusing words that are easy for them to say and to type.
- We have to teach our kids to tell us when they see troublesome online behavior. If they can identify cyberbullying, they can be a part of stopping it.
One Takeaway For Us
The truth is we’ve been teaching our kids how to be kind for a long time. Now we just need to transfer these well-worn lesson to online kindness. Just like we needed to teach our children how to walk, swim, and throw a ball, we need to teach them how to maneuver kindly online. Direct conversations will help us do just that.
IF KINDNESS WINS, ACCOUNTABILITY RULES. The need for this mantra is never clearer than when scrolling through posts and comments left online. Approximately four out of ten kids (42 percent) have experienced cyberbullying. When we were young, our bullies weren’t usually strangers. They were the kids who passed mean notes about us in class, the ones who didn’t let us sit at their table during lunch, and the ones who tripped us in the hallway or embarrassed us in gym class. CYBERBULLYING ISN’T ALL THAT DIFFERENT FROM THE BULLYING OF OUR YOUTH AND NIGHTMARES. But with social media, our bullies have nonstop access to us–and our kids. In fact, we’re often “friends” with our bullies online.
Author: Galit Breen Galit is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids to be kind online. On any given day she can be found juggling three kids, one husband, a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle, and her laptop. She blogs at These Little Waves and tweets at @GalitBreen. .