Editor’s Note: Annie Lane is off this week. The following column was originally published in October 2016.
Dear Annie: The other day, my teenage daughter came to me because her good friend is being bullied on social media. Her friend is a sweetheart, a pretty quiet kid but very polite. So needless to say, I was outraged when my daughter showed me the things that classmates were saying to this girl. I was appalled that other teens could be so cruel.
It’s easy for me to say, “Just ignore them.” But these comments are mean and nasty: “Why do you exist?” “You’re fat and ugly,” etc. I would be bothered if someone wrote those things to me, and I’m a full-grown adult. I can’t imagine reading such hateful comments as an impressionable teen.
I don’t understand why others feel it’s OK to post such mean things on social media when they wouldn’t say it to them in person. I see it all over the internet, too – not just with kids. I have seen acquaintances of mine get into huge fights on Facebook. I don’t get where this aggression comes from.
As a parent, what should I do? Do I tell the friend’s mother? Should I worry about this happening to my own daughter and limit her social media use? – From a Concerned Mom
Dear Concerned: “Why are people so mean on the internet?” It’s one of the great questions of our time. I think it’s easy for people to forget about the real human on the receiving end of their nasty remarks. Anonymity brings out the worst in people, and this latest generation of kids is especially connected to technology and especially vulnerable to all its dark sides.
You should tell the friend’s mother that her daughter is being harassed so she can intervene and ensure her daughter doesn’t spend too much time online, exposed to that negativity. Her mother might also contact the parents of the kids doing the harassing.
On the issue of teens and cyberbullying in general: Parents, pay close attention to what your kids do online. If your child is harassing another child on the internet, you should know about it, and you should put an end to it – whether by revoking your kid’s devices or closely monitoring usage.
Kids should have no expectation of privacy when it comes to what they do on their phones and computers. You should make that clear from the start rather than secretly snoop through unsuspecting kids’ messages after the fact.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying can literally be a matter of life and death, so take it seriously. Visit StopBullying.gov for more information.
Send your questions for Annie Lane to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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