You hear a lot about cyberbullying, and I’ve had some “brushes” with it; but in all honesty I have had a tough time fully comprehending the emotional impact on a child. Well, up until just these past couple of weeks. I wasn’t harassed, threatened, and told I was being watched by kids either. This was my adult (many retired) neighbors while we deal with a neighborhood development matter that some of us disagree about. They were upset that I expressed my opinion of the matter in a letter to our local newspaper editor who published it, and that I wanted to make sure my neighbors simply had all of the information available online to make their own educated and informed decisions.
The incidents came to “a head” last weekend when I stopped by a Facebook page the one group had set up and found about 95% of the posts were statements about me. False claims of what I “think” and “want”, who I work for and insinuations of causing me issues there, who I have business relationships with, and accusations of “secret meetings” because someone said someone was seen at my house, plus more. Shortly before that I received a private message threatening to try to publicly embarrass a family member by bringing up a previously settled legal matter of a false accusation made against them after this person stated running background checks.
I asked the group to remove the posts in a private message as the information was false and they knew it was. They responded by removing some but only after adding a new post disclosing that I messaged them and now claiming I was “stalking”. A public Facebook Page with 95% of the posts about me, claims of watching my house, and running background checks on me and my family . . . and I’m “stalking”? I responded that I would take down all of the stuff I added online and be silent on the matter if they would just stop. All of this over a development matter in our neighborhood none the less.
When the “dust settled” I took a moment to think about it and how I was feeling. I felt uneasy, scared, angry, frustrated, and very . . . alone. Sitting at Mass that day, as God does speak to us, the Gospel spoke of hurtfulness of people and dealing with that. I needed that to say the least. Then it dawned on me that these are the same emotions kids are experiencing. I’m an adult and it was difficult for me to handle. I can understand better now the severity especially because these kids must almost go and face their peers that do this to them daily. I don’t have to see many of my neighbors, but these kids are put “front and center” with a spotlight right on them. That’s sad and scary.
So what’s the solution when it comes to kids?
Step one: STOP thinking kids “know tech” and just handing this stuff over to them. Knowing how to start a car doesn’t mean the person is responsible enough to drive it. It just shows that cars were designed to be that easy to use. No offense to parents, but your child is not more intelligent than others simply because they can launch an app or set up a social networking account.
Attitude by parents towards providing the access, setting guidelines for responsible use, monitoring, and holding kids accountable needs to change. In my opinion, if you are not knowledgeable enough about the technology yourself then you shouldn’t be providing it to your child until you are.
Step two: Get educated yourself and educate your child about how these things work. This is where we as Church communities can really step up. We have knowledgeable people in our communities that can volunteer and teach basic courses for both kids and parents.
Step three: Make sure reporting and support avenues are available even in our parishes. We often look to the schools for this, but our parishes are support systems for all life matters that our brothers and sisters are experiencing. We can be a support avenue for kids and adults experiencing harassment and bullying online. Like I said, one of the emotions I felt was the feeling of being “alone”. That was probably the worst one too. Just think about your worst experience and how much easier it felt knowing you weren’t alone during that time. Knowing someone is there is very often a huge burden lifted.
The online world is NOT different from the offline world. Behavior should not be different. Education and attitude are the two keys to truly addressing this issue in my opinion.
How do you teach young people about cyberbullying?