Bullies: It is so easy to be brave when you are nameless, faceless, and hiding behind a keyboard. Cyberbullying has become a real and frightening part of day-to-day life for kids. Let me amend that, for EVERYONE.
I have been mulling over writing this piece for weeks but an article in the New York Times pushed me to my keyboard. From the NYTimes Facebook:
Richie Incognito reportedly called his Miami Dolphins teammate, Jonathan Martin, the “Big Weirdo” and sent him threatening and racist text messages.
So now a 300 lb guy is intimidating another 300 lb guy via text. Think this is just “part of the game”? Think again. Jonathan Martin quit the team due to the harassment and Richie Incognito was suspended indefinitely. So what is my point with this story? Well it’s simple. If a highly educated (Mr. Martin is a Stanford graduate) and hard working (playing for the NFL takes dedication, hard work, and perseverance) player can be forced out of his career by bullying then how do we expect children to handle the same situation?
Our children are plugged in 24/7. Every event is Instagrammed. Disagreements happen over text, not over the phone or in person. Esteem-killing gossip is shared on Ask.fm. Strangers can find them on Omegle. (The Omegle tagline? “Talk to Strangers!”) NSFW photos are sent via Snapchat. It’s overwhelming.
Children are exposed to inappropriate and even dangerous information online. Let’s break down some of the well known issues.
- Instagram: Have you seen the fun game where kids post a picture of 9 or so girls and ask you to rate them? The “ugliest” girl is x’d out and the picture is re-posted for the next round.
- What you can do: Be sure your child’s account is set to private. Be sure they only accept friend requests from KIDS hey know in real life. Friend your child on Instagram to see what they are posting and be sure to talk to them about appropriate content.
- Ask.fm: This is a scary one. Anyone can post anonymously to your profile and many children are being bullied by these posts. A young girl in the UK was bullied so badly via Ask.fm that it was a factor in her suicide. Her mother is now pushing to close down Ask.fm so other children will not be harassed.
- What you can do: DELETE this app. I have never heard of a good experience on Ask.fm and I have many friends with children who have been bullied while using it. Dump it.
- Omegle: Talk to strangers. I think that sums up the issue here.
- What you can do: Delete this app if you find it on your child’s phone or iPad.
- Snapchat: This app flashes pictures to followers. Some children mistakenly believe these photos are deleted immediately and cannot be shared. Many users take a screen capture of the photos and share them later. So your child who just showed their junk on Snapchat? Well it’s probably now over on Instagram too.
- What you can do: This is another bad one. Delete this app if you find it on your child’s phone or iPad
Sitting behind a keyboard makes people artificially brave. Why not? There are no consequences. Use an alias and make a comment – no matter how vile or hurtful – there is no recourse. I am not talking about children by the way. I am talking about the adults. Bullies can be low or high income, highly educated or a high- school dropout. This behavior of making comments without consequences is in every town and it’s disturbing. Don’t believe me? Take a quick look at your local Patch online newspaper and read the comments. It’s ugly out there and this is the example our children are seeing (reading).
In general our children are more technologically savvy than their parents. Working in social media I feel like I am a well informed 40+, but the reality of the situation is technology changes faster than I can keep up. I have a 10 year old that manages the cloud better than his mother. I have a Freshman who was harassed by text until I contacted the school. I have a middle schooler who refuses to answer the home phone because she only texts with her friends. I have work to do.
How can we protect our kids?
- Check their phones. I believe children deserve privacy but I pay for that phone and I am the mother. Check their apps, YouTube history, and every now and again their texts. YES their texts. I had a long conversation with one of my children about the difference of being concise and being rude. Etiquette and kindness are taught, so be their teacher.
- Educate yourself. Ask your kids to show you what apps they are using. Read some articles about children and technology. Don’t hide your head in the sand and think your child is too young or good to have issues in social media. Even the best kids are exposed to or using something that is not age appropriate.
- Educate your kids. Explain what is appropriate on text and on-line. Encourage them to go phone free for a while. Teach them what they can and cannot say. I have a simple rule for myself and my children:
- If you would not say it to someone’s face or want your mother to read it, don’t put in on social media or on text.
- Own It. If another parent or the school contacts you about your child’s actions on social media or text don’t assume they are wrong. Children make mistakes and deserve second chances so take these social media missteps as an opportunity to teach them.
Children who are bullies probably have issues at home or in their life. We can all appreciate the turmoil that adolescents face daily, but turning that turmoil into bullying behavior is never acceptable. As parents we need to help protect our children from bullies and prevent them from becoming one.
We need to help kids navigate the social world. We need to engage in a conversation with our children. We must educate ourselves as to what is out there. Parenting, when done correctly, is HARD. By using education, communication, and a little luck hopefully we can keep our kids safe and ourselves sane.