I just can’t bear to read it. Another heart-breaking story that didn’t have to happen— a beautiful Texas teenager fatally shoots herself, in front of her own family, after a long-term battle with cyberbullies. Though I can’t possibly understand this tragedy, I want her parents—and others who have lost children to the tyranny of social media—to know that I truly care. And I want to do something to help. So in memory of these precious lives stolen too soon, I promise one thing: that I’ll do my part as a parent to end the vicious epidemic of cyberbullying.
It’s hard to know exactly where to start when it comes to parenting against our culture of online bullies. It’s a complex thing, that online world. The days of fretting over nap time and feeding schedules seem like elementary-school math compared to social media, which is surely the organic chemistry of the parenting curriculum. It’s tough. But I think the solutions for dealing with this complex topic are actually quite simple. We must teach our kids to be kind online. We should model that kindness in our own online activity. And we should hold our children fiercely accountable for their online actions. These parental duties are mission-critical when it comes to ensuring a better, kinder regime of online interaction. So how do we execute them?
We already know the value of keeping computers in common areas, constantly monitoring and restricting our children’s online activity, and turning in cell phones before bed at night—all good, research-backed stuff. But if we’re ever to conquer online hate, I believe we must go beyond this and begin to have authentic conversations with our kids. I’m wondering how many parents of cyber-bullies were also bullies, and how many ever actually talked with their kids about being kind to others online. Did these parents ever explain the potential consequences of online cruelty and shaming? Did they talk about the possibility that a single mean comment could shred someone’s soul and drive them into the darkness of contemplating suicide? Did they describe the grief journey that a victim’s parents might endure—a dark world where happiness is constantly dangled but never quite found—because their loss is too much to bear? Did they emphasize that these victims are real people—daughters and sons who have taken first steps, said first words, smiled for pictures on the first day of kindergarten, and that cold-bloodedly vandalizing a parent’s work in raising a child is simply inhumane? I also wonder if these parents discussed clear expectations for their kids’ online activity and imposed strict consequences for unkind or inappropriate behavior. I’m no expert, but I’m thinking that these conversations could significantly reduce the number of cyberbullies out there, and may even save lives.
[More on Monitoring Your Teen Online Here.]
I want to offer my deepest sympathy to the parents of cyber-bullying victims, and reiterate my promise to do all that I can as a parent to help prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. I’m going to have authentic, thought-provoking conversations with my kids about the importance of cyber-kindness and hold them strictly accountable for anything less. Because when we teach our kids to be respectful instead of hateful online, we are subconsciously honoring the victims of cyberbullying, and slowly chipping away at the chances of future heartache.