“next time she talks to my man, shes gonna get her b**ch a** beat!”
“omg danielle wore the same shirt yesterday.”
“We lost tonight cuz Kevin can’t kick for sh*t smh”
That’s just some of the (not so passive) aggressive examples of cyber bullying recently found on my Facebook feed….
Digital Death Zones
In addition to needing a grammar lesson whilst communicating their discontent in life, many of today’s young people also need to be taught how to play nice in the digital sand box known as the Internet. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Google+, a growing number of teens are employing the damaging tactics of cyber bullying in their social media exchanges.
Of course, most kids don’t see themselves as “bullies” (an overused buzzword of the last decade) when they talk trash about someone else in the social media landscape. They’d just call it being real.
Until it happens to them.
“Did you see Michael’s new haircut? Hahahaha. It looks like a hipster threw up on his head!”
Cyber bullying, any act of teasing, hurting, taunting, harassing, or shaming another person online, comes in many different forms. Don’t get caught up in the “bullying” title. According to DoSomething.org, roughly 43% of teens have been harassed online (with about 25% of them claiming to have suffered more than one instance of it). Girls are twice as likely to be victims of cyber bullying compared to boys…and sadly, twice as likely to commit it, as well. Unsurprisingly, kids who’ve experienced cyber bullying are much more likely to attempt suicide than those who haven’t. (You can see more data on cyber bullying here.)
But in spite of the inherent dangers associated with cyber bullying, one demographic remains largely unconcerned about its impact: parents. When it comes to cyber bullying, some studies have uncovered a rather large gap between kids’ experiences and parents’ perception. While at least one-third of students are frustrated by the reality of cyber bullying, a mere 7% of parents say they’re worried about it affecting their child.
With a gap that big, lots of kids are bound to fall through the cracks.
SIDE NOTE: American teens may have perfected cyber bullying, but they’re by no means the only young people in the world being exposed to dangerous/disturbing engagements in online environments. Ongoing reports by EU Kids Online have found that young people in Europe face many of the same web-based perils that our own kids do, including pro-anorexia sites, self-harm sites, pornography, and of course, cyber bullying, just to name a few.
Beating the Bad Guys
Sometimes it seems overwhelming making attempts to keep social media safe for our kids. There are, however, a few simple strategies we can employ as parents and youth workers that will help shield our teenagers from the growing problem of cyber bullying.
- Warn them about the reality of cyber bullying. Parents of the sixties warned their kids about rock and roll. Parents of the eighties warned their kids about drugs. Because cyber bullying is such a common problem today, we need to make sure our kids are aware of the possibility they may face it. We don’t have to use gruesome scare tactics; we just need to give them a proactive heads up. There’s absolutely no reason why our kids should get blindsided by cyber bullying. Our kids may not always know how to handle cyber bullying, but they need to know it exists and how to recognize it.
- Define the problem. When most kids think of bullying, they think of kids getting beat up or severely ridiculed. Most of our kids don’t see subtle gossip as bullying. Rather than getting caught up in semantics, help them understand that even the subtle negative comments made about someone else are harmful. Ask them, “How would it make you feel if a group of your friends made degrading comments about the way you dressed yesterday?”
- Teach them how to react in a godly way. Because of the likelihood they’ll face cyber bullying and any kind of online gossip, it’s a good idea to give them some practical ways to handle it. Of course, you want to do everything in your power to make sure your teenager isn’t the one perpetrating the bullying, but there’s much more you can do. You can also show your teenager appropriate ways to handle any cyber bullying that comes their way. But help your kids help their friends, as well. You might even encourage them to identify a trusted adult at their school to whom they can report incidences.
Let’s face it: “hurt people hurt people” no matter their age. If your teenager runs across an upset kid who’s lashing out at others, helping your child have their guard up and a game plan in mind can go a long way towards preventing (or at least limiting) the problem of cyber bullying.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.