Something parents feel particularly helpless with is cyberbullying. And cyberbullying has become a bigger and bigger problem. It’s reported that 43% of students have been bullied while online, and 53% of kids admit they have said something mean or hurtful to another kid online—one in three of those have done so more than once. Cyberbullying is a huge issue.
I recently interviewed Dr. Josh Straub. He’s a psychologist and leading expert on social media and the effect it’s having on our kids. One of the big points he makes is that social media is causing teens to lose empathy.
Social media is causing teens to lose empathy.
In our interview, he talked about a study done on college students. The study found that over the past 30 years, self-centeredness has increased by 40% in students and empathy has decreased by 30%. This lack of empathy is a product of an internet culture that teaches kids they are the center of the universe and distances them from real relationships and face-to-face conversations.
Lack of empathy is a product of an internet culture that distances kids from real relationships.
With this lack of empathy and face-to-face connection, it has become easier and easier for kids to bully other kids online. They even share videos of bullying, so the whole school can see, causing kids to be desensitized to inappropriate and cruel behavior.
So what can we do about it? If a lack of empathy is at the core of the problem, teaching our kids to have empathy is the solution.
As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is teach your child how to respect other kids. Talk with your kids about what life must be like for their best friends, for someone you meet at a ball game, etc. Take the time to ask your kids questions about others by saying, “I wonder if Johnny sees his parents much” or “I heard that Ellie’s father passed away a few years ago, I wonder how she’s doing.” Simply by asking thought-provoking questions, you can help your kids begin to see how other kids live.
One of the best ways to teach your kids how to have empathy and love others is by involving them as you model it. Take some bread to a shut-in and bring your kids along. Find a neighbor who needs a helping hand and take your kids to their house to mow the lawn. The most effective way to teach kids how to love and respect other kids is by modeling these behaviors on a daily basis. This is the best way to counter the effects of desensitization that social media breeds.
The best way to teach kids how to love and respect others is by modeling these behaviors for them.
Dr. Straub also suggests asking your kids how they can use technology to build others up instead of tearing them down.
You may have heard about Natalie Hampton, the high school student who invented the app “Sit With Us.”
Natalie was ruthlessly bullied in middle school, and she says that one of the worst parts of that experience was having to sit alone at lunch every day. It made her feel isolated and alone. So she created “Sit With Us”, where kids can reach out to other kids and let them know their table is open and safe for anyone to sit with them.
If a kid walks into the lunchroom and has no one to sit with, they can open the app and see a list of all the open tables. They never have to sit alone again.
This is empathy at work. This is hope. Students like Natalie are standing up for what’s right and watching out for potential victims. They are using the same technology that cyberbullies use, but they’re using it to build kids up, instead of tearing them down.
Kids are not all social media-crazed zombies. They are human, trying to grow up in a digital world that doesn’t encourage them to be human. Instill empathy in your kids. Teach them to love and respect each other and challenge them to use the cyber world for good, not for bullying
Visit the Unity Day website here to learn more about what you can do to help prevent bullying.
To learn more about bullying prevention and what to do if your child is being bullied, visit StopBullying.gov. If a crime or immediate risk is involved, call 911. If your child is feeling hopeless or thinking about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).