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February 02, 2018 —
We are barely into the New Year and have had headlines of young people that have taken their lives after emotionally struggling with online and offline bullying. Unfortunately, Bullycide is now a term we have become too familiar with.
Social media can be a playground for online abuse and we often hear parents wanting to place blame on the specific apps themselves. From the earlier days of Juicy Campus, YikYak or Ask.fm, to the more recent trends of Snapchat or Sarahah, there will always be an app to blame we need to realize that it’s our responsibility to teach our teens about appropriate and respectful online behavior.
As we know with offline peer pressure and substance abuse, some teens are followers and are easily influenced to make decisions against their best judgment. For these teens, getting pulled into mocking someone online or forwarding a mean meme can happen very easily, without realizing that their behavior is a part online bullying.
The rise of technology has made it easier to be mean since you don't have to face the person and can hide behind a screen. Teens are developing a mob-like mentality of ganging up on individuals virtually without knowing the impact they are having on that person in real life.
For example, Gabriella Green was only 12 years-old when she hung herself, after being bombarded with online messages from other 12-year-olds calling her vulgar names, accusing her of having STD's and encouraging her to take her life.
Are girls getting meaner?
Katie Hurley, the author of No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong Confident and Compassion Girls (Penguin, January 2018) shares with readers the importance of talking to your daughter about relational aggression.
Hurley cautions parents not to fall into the trap of saying, “It's just something all girls go through." She encourages parents to talk to their children about relational aggression—when harm is caused by damaging someone's relationships or social status—and to define words like gossip, teasing, taunting, public humiliation, excluding, cliques, and cyberbullying so they understand the very real consequences these actions can have on another person.
With teens spending an average of nine hours on social media each day, according to a 2016 Common Sense report, it's imperative they are accountable for their online behavior.
From Bystander to Upstander
Parents need to remember they are their child's role-model online too. If you are engaging in hateful behavior online, you are giving your teen the green-light to do the same.
In No More Mean Girls, Katie Hurley reminds parents that we must model Upstander and Supporter behavior. Hurley recognizes that not everyone is able to stand up to bullies and some kids are stronger than others, but we can teach our teens to take on positive roles by modeling this behavior with our own actions. You can also share tips with our teens – for example, you can remind them that being supportive can sometimes be as simple as sending the victim a private message -- letting them know you're in their corner.
A high school student from Bayonne, New Jersey, David Mansour recently won AT&T Film Award in the youth category for his submission of "Leave A Message." This powerful short-video helps people of all ages realize they have choices in life -- your decision of making that call or sending that text could actually save a life. It's up to you. When I asked David what inspired him to make this film, this was his answer:
“My film was made in honor of a young man that committed suicide in Long Island. He was not supported when he was bullied, and it ultimately led to the loss of his life. His school was reluctant to help and dismissed several incidents. His death was not in vain. I aim to spread the importance of anti-bullying.”
Isn't it time we encourage bystanders to become upstanders? What will you encourage your teen to do the next time they witness online hate? Leave a comment below.
For more information on curbing cyberbullying, read Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion In An Age of Cruelty and Trolling (Sourcebooks, October 2017). Discussion guide also included.
Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She is the founder of Parents' Universal Resource Experts, Inc., which has helped thousands of families since 2001 with at-risk teenagers. Her first book, Wit's End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen continues to be resource for many parents raising teens today. Sue’s latest book, Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, documents how cyber-shaming has become a national pastime and what we can do about it. Connect with Sue on Twitter and Facebook.