It’s early January. Typically that’s a slow month here at home, a time to ease out of the holidays and into the new year.
But this week there’s a huge bullying news story here in Texas that is filling my social media feed. It’s about the death of David Molak, the Alamo Heights teen who took his own life after months of bullying via social media.
At first I was hesitant even to speak up publicly. Sure, I spent a couple of years working on a book about bullying within a certain demographic, but this Central Texas story is so unbelievably heartbreaking that I didn’t even know what I could add to the dialogue.
And then, upon encountering another vitriolic political post in my feed–from someone whom I actually like well enough not to “unfriend,” it hit me:
If we grownups want to stop vicious online behavior in teens, we adults need to stop engaging in it.
That’s right. When we openly throw around demeaning terms (“libtards” and “repugs”) or routinely share posts from websites that incite hatred against other humans–politicians and celebrities, too, are human–then we are signaling to our kids that this kind of crass, frankly inarticulate behavior is acceptable. We are saying that we can use our words to cut other people down to size.
Does this behavior all qualify as bullying? Not always. Bullying is primarily an issue of power (or in some cases perceived power). If the power dynamic isn’t in place, then the behavior is “ordinary meanness.”
But the words used in both types of aggressive interactions are the same.
There is a place for constructive criticism. There is a place for provocative satire. We need to teach our kids to recognize that context and intent are everything, especially when it comes to criticism. We need to teach them the finer points of communication and interaction while nurturing social-emotional skills.
I’m not just talking about protecting targets. Potential bullies and victims alike need to learn these things. The more nuanced their understanding of these topics, the more apt teens are to think twice before engaging in online aggression (“cyberbullying”).
To teach our children effectively, we need to examine our own behavior and perhaps make some substantive changes to it. We need to demonstrate poise and restraint online as well as off. When we make a mistake and become overheated about a topic which we are passionate about, we need to own up to it, apologize, retract. People make mistakes, but we can keep learning, changing, and improving. We need to speak out against the hatred and vitriol–or at least shun the posts that engage in it long enough that they quiet down.
The change we want for our kids and teens?
It begins with us, friends. It begins with us.
Just so we’re clear, I’ll say it again:
Cyberbullying prevention begins at our own keyboards and touchpads.
And it’s time for change.
P.S. Looking for anti-bullying resources? I have a Pinterest board that I started when I was researching my book. You are welcome to use it.
P.P.S. A local news station posted this insightful video to Facebook. There are some good points made in it, so I thought it deserved a share here, too.
P.P.S.2 Alamo City Moms Blog has published a blog post by Denise Moore that covers the topic of bullying–and the actions parents can take to recognize and curb it–here.