By Galit Breen, Special for USDR
42% of kids report having been the victim of some form of cyberbullying reports Family Internet Safety Advocate, Sue Scheff. Despite this knowledge, kids are using social media at younger ages and for more hours a day than ever before.
Why Social Media, Why So Young?
Social media skills are necessary for both current connectivity with peers and future work opportunities. Many schools are responding to this need by implementing 1:1 programs—where every student has access to their own device during the school year. One goal of this is to ease socioeconomic divide and put all students on more even academic playing fields. This also creates a need for a whole slew of new lessons.
Cyberbullying Is A Primary Concern
Scheff says, “Cyberbullying now comes in as a primary concern for parents, topping both teen pregnancy and substance abuse.” When we were young, our bullies weren’t faceless strangers. They were the kids who wouldn’t let us sit at their lunch tables or pick us for a team in gym class.
Cyberbullying works in the exact same way. Cyberbullies aren’t usually strangers; our kids are often friends with their bullies on social media platforms. The difference is that our kids can’t escape their bullies by going home like we could. Our kids’ bullies have constant access to them online. This is why cyberbullying is at the top of all of our minds, and our worries.
Because we’re the first generation of parents and teachers raising digital kids without having been digital kids ourselves, the answers to these worries seem hard to find amidst the murky social media waters. If we can’t be a step ahead of our kids, we can learn right along-side them. Our kids need the adults in their lives to step in with social media guidance. Realizing this, cutting-edge educators are beginning to bring in social media experts onto their school teams and adding online safety to teacher training lessons.
Andrea North is a Social Media Storyteller who focuses on helping schools be where their communities are—this includes grandparents, parents, and students. North says, “There are always dark sides to social media, so we have to proceed with caution. However, schools can lead our students in the right way by using it positively.”
Our kids need the opportunities social media can provide at their—literal–fingertips, but they also need a solid understanding of the underbelly of social media–how loud, permanent, and far-reaching mistakes on the Internet can be. One way to help these lessons hit home is to share the reality of what happens online with our kids. Here’s mine.
Last summer I wrote an article for The Huffington Post about marriage, the comments that came in on it were about my weight. I was devastated. But several months later, I wrote a second article calling out my cyberbullies and calling for online kindness. That article—along with the original cyberbullying comments–went viral.
If cyberbullying was devastating for me to experience as an adult, it’s frightening to imagine how a tween or a teen would maneuver experiencing it. That 42% statistic of kids reporting having been cyberbullied is far too big to ignore.
Resources To Help
Standing up to my bullies was an empowering first step to addressing cyberbullying. But it was only when my own daughter asked to post, tweet, and share photos on Instagram that I saw the gaping loophole in the education our kids are getting about their online use. There wasn’t a social media playbook for our kids to follow. But as Psychotherapist, Parent Educator, and author Katie Hurley, LCSW says, “If we want to raise kind kids, we all need to be on the same page.”
What Hurley describes can be called a culture of kindness; one where online civility is expected, and cyberbullying is the surprise. Enter: Kindness Wins. Kindness Wins, my response to this need, was published by Booktrope Publishing this spring. It covers ten habits to directly teach kids how to be kind online and the explicit conversations parents and teachers need to have with our kids and with each other to create a culture of kindness and a safer, kinder Internet for all of us.
Just like we needed to teach our children how to walk, swim, and throw a ball, we need to teach them how to maneuver kindly online.
We’re Creating Digital Tattoos Not Digital Footprints—Let’s Do So Wisely
An important lesson our kids need to learn right away is how permanent the Internet is. Let’s swap out the oft-used concept of creating digital footprints, which slowly fade away with time, with digital tattoos–permanent stains that are difficult and costly to remove.
As North says, there are negatives and positives to social media. It isn’t our job to shield our kids from either one. It’s our job to teach them how–and hold them accountable–to maneuver social media wisely and kindly.
Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online. Breen was a teacher for ten years. She has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child; The Huffington Post; TIME; and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. She blogs at TheseLittleWaves.com and tweets at @GalitBreen.