Online bullying is an epidemic among teens. Here’s what you, and your teen, can do to help.
According to Pew Research, a reported 59 percent of teens have been bullied online. The types of online bullying vary from offensive name-calling to spreading rumors to sending explicit, unsolicited images.
The internet, and social media, in particular, have made bullying easier than ever. What used to be reserved for the playground or cafeteria can now be done behind the safety of a smartphone or laptop screen.
But the internet and social media aren’t going away. The solution to online bullying isn’t to get rid of Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. While I do recommend children get off these platforms if they are suffering from mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, I know it’s not realistic for most parents to forbid their child’s use of social media. So, instead of demonizing it, teach your child to use social media as a force for good, rather than bullying.
Here are a few things your child, and you can do this month to help combat social-media bullying:
For every negative comment you see, write a kind one.
Encourage your teen to write a kind comment on social media each time she sees a mean one. This can be on a friend’s account, or another account she follows someone who could use encouragement. Tell her to focus her comments, not on external compliments, such as “You look so pretty!”, but on character traits, she sees in her friend, like courage, intelligence or kindness.
You could also encourage your child to include her friends in this. I’ve noticed that when kids unite to spot bullying—at school, online and elsewhere—they are more motivated to speak up. They feel more empowered to stop it and see themselves as a part of the solution, rallying around others who are being bullied to put a stop to it. Imagine a force of teens watching for bullying online and helping to stop it!
Follow social media accounts that are spreading good.
While social media can often be the root of bullying, it can also be the root of good. Many accounts today are working to spread empathy, kindness, and self-acceptance—the opposite of bullying. Encourage your teen to follow some of these accounts. For example, The Self Love Project promotes body positivity and acceptance. Even some celebrity accounts, like tennis star Serena Williams’, are committed to posting realistic photos of themselves and encouraging self-confidence in who you, not what you look like.
Encourage the unfollow button.
Ask your teen if there are any accounts she follows that make her feel bad about herself. She doesn’t need to follow someone whom she is constantly comparing her life to and feeling like she’s falling short. Use October to encourage your teen to clean out her social media feed and follow accounts that are inspiring and up-lifting.
Ultimately, parents, you have more influence over your child than social media. You might not think so, but trust me, you do. I’m frequently asked to speak to kids about important things like bullying, sex, drugs, and alcohol. My preference is always to speak to parents instead. This is because parents have more influence over their child’s life than anything and anyone else.
This is why when it comes to bullying, the best thing for your child is to see you modeling kind, empathetic behavior toward others. Don’t just talk about being kind. Actually be kind. Help your neighbors, hold the door open for a stranger, look restaurant servers in the eye. Say thank you. These might seem like simple things, but if a child grows up watching this type of behavior modeled by you, he is far less likely to bully others one day.
To learn more about how you can get involved in bully prevention in your community and neighborhood, visit Pacer.org.