Sneaky Ways We Teach Kids To Cyberbully And What To Do About It

post by Rachel Baitz, Graduate student in the Human Development, Learning, and Culture Program at the University of British Columbia.

Have you ever “Liked” a funny post that poked fun at a celebrity or wrote a harsh comment to defend someone? Without intending to hurt others, we are all a little guilty of modelling unkind behaviour for tweens and teens. Although these behaviours seem harmless to us adults, tweens and teens are still learning to understand adult social cues and may imitate our behaviours in harmful ways. Below are three ways that adults model cyberbullying and what we can do to turn things around.

  1. We make jokes at the expense of others. How often have you poked fun at someone online (mocked a photo or video; teased about poor grammar; etc.)? Even if these comments are lighthearted, it’s good to remember that youth are always paying attention. They are still learning subtleties when it comes to which kinds of comments are funny and which can be hurtful, and often these lessons are being learned in their online worlds.

Instead, focus on relationships. Cyberbullying isn’t a technology problem; it’s a relationship problem. We need to think about the person on the other end and act as if that person were in front of us. Just as we want tweens and teens to encourage one another, so should we encourage others as well.

  1. We sometimes “Like” unkind things. How often have you “liked” or commented on something that was unkind? Liking unkind things sends the message that hurtful words are okay. Think of your likes, views, and comments just as seriously as you would think about posting something hurtful.

Instead, look back at your recent activity. Have you posted or liked anything you wouldn’t approve of your teen posting or liking? Have you said anything unkind, even to someone who you feel might have deserved it? Be honest with what you find and don’t beat yourself up. This is an opportunity to move forward and to have open conversations with your child about it.

  1. We justify our mean behaviour. Can you think of a time that you have justified your own hurtful words? We often rationalize mean behaviour because someone else “deserved it”, or they were misinformed. Remember that there are two sides to every story and every story deserves to be heard.

Instead, talk to your tween or teen. We all know that digital communication can leave out tone of voice and social cues about intention – take the time to talk about this with your tween or teen. Ask them about a time when a message they sent was received differently than they had intended. Second, talk to your tween or teen about a time you regret something you said or did online. What happened? How might you go about repairing the situation now?

Fortunately, by looking inward and taking small steps towards more kind interactions, we can change the message we send to tweens and teens to be a more positive one. The goal isn’t to be perfect all the time – we all make mistakes! Rather than try to be perfect, let’s open the lines of communication with our tweens and teens about how we can all strive to be more kind to others online.