It’s no secret that I spend a LOT of time online. It’s my job! But some days I am appalled at the comments and updates or tweets from people in our community. I don’t just mean trolls who get a kick out of saying nasty stuff, I mean upstanding citizens who represent our community from commercial to political positions. And it’s these folk who seem to be WORSE than the regular moron insulting people for no good reason.
These community representatives use social media as a way to call each other names, highlight imperfections or mistakes, and even stoop so low as to mention other people’s private lives or claim that others use family as an excuse to ignore comments or deny reply to local media. I mean surely a person of political position would never have such times as a child’s birthday party, or a family funeral to attend! And should ensure they are available for public comment and Twitter replies at ALL times!
I am so glad I’ve never had a career in politics that encouraged that kind of behaviour! Educated adults who know better! Would they say that kind of thing to a person’s face? I certainly hope not.
But as an Internet Trolling Crusader, I have made the mistake of calling someone out on their online behaviour, to which they retaliated with a quick look at my Facebook profile and told me I should spend more time worrying about getting my husband a hair cut, than trying to make the world a better place. So I decided to stop. It is really another form of trolling after all. People get excitement from saying nasty things online.
As a mother of a 2 year old, I have only had to deal with Internet issues that involve myself and my empathy for others who get harassed just because they made a comment or disagreed with an opinion. But the Ballarat Family Guide and as an aunty and big sister, I am acutely aware of the dangers posed by social media. Not just the obvious kind like child predators and inappropriate content, but from the “friends” that kids spend every day with at school!
From the stories I have heard, online “bullying” can be passive and hard to prove. The obvious ones like telling a peer that they should just go and kill themselves, or posting nasty comments or images about a person are overt and easily punished. But social media puts a new dimension to bullying that is completely covert, the art of exclusion. How many of your teens post updates like “these are all my bffs” and share a grid image of their best friends? Or copy and paste statuses like “if you were on a boat surrounded by sharks with Friend 1, 2 & 3, but you could only save 2, which would you choose”.
The hurt comes from the exclusion; the ones who are obviously left out of the grid image by the friends they were accepted by yesterday, but suddenly today aren’t good enough for. And the friends who choose Friend 1 and Friend 2 over them, is HORRIBLE and hurtful. But neither scenario can prove that a specific person was targeted on purpose! Yet the child knows. The parents know. The teachers possibly know, but certainly can’t prove it and therefore have no power to stop it. And from there grow issues like anxiety, depression, not wanting to go to school and all the other symptoms that come with regular bullying.
I asked Sue Anderson, author of Unbullyable and a local coach and consultant in the bullying space, why do people feel the need to bully others, and what can parents do?
Sue says online bullying is not a lot different for the victim, because social media provides an escape for many people, so when the bullying starts to enter that part of a person’s life, it becomes stressful and unbearable. But for the bullies themselves, it differs in the fact that it can be easier to get away with.
Some of the reasons Sue believes people resort to online bullying include:
- To feel powerful, because they are dis-empowered themselves
- To try to belong (often bullies are lonely with few true friends)
- There are usually few consequences for their behaviour (they think they can get away with it)
- Can remain anonymous
- Don’t have to take responsibility for it
You can see from these reasons there are issues going on for the bullies too, so it is important for parents to be aware of their child’s online activities and monitor what they are doing. As well as setting a good example by monitoring their own behaviour online.
As the parent of a bullying victim it seems easy to just tell the child to not go on the sites, but Sue says that’s just unrealistic. It’s much more practical to try and teach your children how to not care about what is posted about them online. Which, again, seems easier said than done. But a few simple tips are:
- Let your child know that no one can MAKE them feel anything. They own how they feel about themselves.
- Ask them what they believe about bullies? Do they believe they are POWERFUL or do they believe bullies are actually unhappy, powerless kids trying to feel powerful?
- Teach them that they CHOOSE what they think, feel, say and do
- Tell them you love them just because they were born, and they don’t have to do anything to earn your love. You love them JUST BECAUSE THEY EXIST.
So while it may be too late to save the political outbursts and insults, and the grown up trolls on the Internet, hopefully with some simple advice like this we can all teach our children good etiquette for their social networks and discourage a generation of passive bullies by changing our culture, one family at a time.
Sue’s book Unbullyable- Bullying solutions for parents and children is available at www.unbullyable.com.au
by Louise Jones & input from Sue Anderson