Cyber Safety for Kids and Families with Joanna and Jodie on 103.9FM The Fish Family Morning Show
In recent news headline, a parent of a high school in Cordele, Georgia reported a bully experience with her sophomore teen, “Due to the vulgarity of the language in the letter the Cordele Dispatch could not print the letter,” the article said, “however the first line of the letter speaks volumes as it tells the young girl ‘Go kill yourself. You’re a nobody’.”
Sadly, this hostility is becoming a new norm of cruelty for cyber-powered communities of our youth. According to the Detroit Press, a recent study by Poco Kernsmith, an associate professor of social work at Wayne State University, indicated that 50% of middle school students admitted to participating in bullying, stalking and/or encouraging peers to send naked photos of themselves. In my experience as an ancient cyber mom of two grown sons, and as an independent journalist over the past decade covering what it means to grow up in and parent in a cyber-powered world, it is not surprising to me that more kids are dishing up hateful, harassing slings and arrows towards their peers. Mobile connectivity introduces a power crisis for individuals that if unchecked by our family culture, can rob children of their inherent capacity to connect with and express the dignity and grace that comes from the divinity within. (My faith informs me that God grants wisdom to those who lack it and seek it. –James 1:5)
Parenting culture and cyber tools
The cyber technology shields people from the emotional reaction to cruel statements, and inspires people to lose inhibitions with illusions of anonymity, believing they will never be accountable for the hurtful things that are expressed. Without a disciplined mind, which I understand to be socialization that involves regarding others as important as self; without the training and guidance of parents monitoring communications on and off line to point out examples of how their child’s own self respect and compassion for another human being is devolving into hostile and unloving ways, our children are experiencing an intensely cruel and vicious bully climate in their cyber social realms and in the flesh.
“Go kill yourself. You’re a nobody.” – an opening line in a bully letter to a sophomore in high school reported by a Georgia newspaper this month
Tips for cultivating a disciplined middle-school mind
Protecting privacy. Explain that there is no privacy on line, and monitor your teen’s cyber communications. Private is the personal stuff you keep from the world because not everybody is trustworthy, while the secrets kids keep from parents tend to harbor risk. You as the parent are the guardian of your child’s personal security and you are the primary teacher for life. So you can respect their privacy by not blabbing their personal stuff to everyone, and refrain from offering your opinion about everything you see in their on-line world.
Self-other texts review. Review your child’s cyber communications periodically – especially the texts. Have your child insert “me”, “I” or their name where the subject is another peer. Ask them to consider how it feels. If there is a disturbing of the peace while reading the statements with their own identity as the subject, then that will give your child something to think about. Ask her how she will do things differently to change the communications among her peers about her peers. Offer suggestions in a way that peaks your child’s curiosity: “I have some experience with gossip, would you like to know some things that worked for me in the past?” Your child’s curiosity will compel her to want to know what you know.
Do not judge. Parents often confuse correction with “judging” which Matthew 7:1-3 cautions against. It is possible to correct your child with a compassionate heart full or mercy and hope. If your child is engaged in bullying, express your disappointment that they were not being kind and with the hope that your child will choose to change. If you are critical and condemning in your tone and delivery from the heart, the lesson your child will learn is that the crime is to get caught adn there will be greater temptation to keep secrets. Your aim as the parent is to help your child stand corrected, not hiding from correction. There is no redemption when we reinforce correction with shame inspired feelings.
If your child is the target. If your child is the target of a harassment campaign, there are very specific steps you can take with the school administration to conduct an intervention and make sure that the aggressors get help too. To learn more about working with school officials to deal with a bully problem, go to: BRAVE SOCIETY and Reviving Parenthood.
Keep in mind that hurt people hurt others. People who bully and harass are struggling with issues that need to be resolved. Our aim should always be to seek justice for all if we are to model a peaceful society. When our aim is to hold others and ourselves accountable with a heart full of mercy and hope, there can be peace.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and spiritual resilience. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.