“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”
This old adage served many children well over the ages. For children, like me, name-calling in the school yard and in the streets were laughed off, and eventually died away. I was never physically assaulted by another child, so have suffered no ill effect from the few nasty incidents that are only vaguely recalled.
I can therefore understand, to a certain extent, why some people put forward the claim that the children of today just needs to harden up and stop whinging about their feelings being hurt. They cannot see how much technology has changed the world.
Traditional forms of school-yard bullying are, unfortunately, still very much alive and well. However, unlike the pre-internet era when a child could escape it after school, at weekends and during holidays, the children of today are quite often in constant contact with one another via social media. They are connected to their friends, and also to their tormentors, and unlike the nasty note that was passed to you in class that read “you stink”, internet posts are permanent, and the scale of exposure limitless.
One also has to consider the effect of the physical separation that the internet provides. A face-to-face confrontation holds risks that simply aren’t there online. And then there is the problem of anonymity. The bully can attack you using a fake Facebook account, or they can set up a hate-page on Instagram, or simply send you abusive text messages from a private number. And others can join in freely, creating a pack mentality which can continue for years.
All too often we see a news item that informs us of another young life that had been lost due to bullying.
Society as a whole and our children in particular are harmed by the peanut gallery who boo and hiss whenever the topic of bullying in the modern era comes up. It is time to start (at least try) to understand how the world has changed and how the internet-era is changing the way we interact with one another. No matter how much some people think of their own childhoods as being some sort of ‘ideal’, there is no going back.
Unfortunately I have no advice to give, other than:
- Listen to your children and try to see things from their point of view
- Encourage them to not engage in bullying behaviour themselves
- Support them by taking them seriously
- Be active by engaging with the school and other persons affected
- Work together with other members of the community to find solutions and support
The questions we need to answer are:
- How can we best support our children when they are being bullied?
- How can we best deal with the bullies to help them become productive members of society?
- How can we, as first generation social media parents, pave the way for a better and more prepared future?
These are not easy questions and maybe there are no clear answers, but I believe that we can make things better/more bearable/easier for our peers and for future generations.
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