Warning! I am writing emotively about a topic that I am getting sick of seeing ‘white-washed’. Chances are I am going to piss some people off and 100% certainty I will swear…evident as I already have. I am going say things that some will feel uncomfortable in hearing. But hear me out.
A few years ago I wrote an article about the ‘cyber sandpit’. It basically used the toddler’s sandpit as an example of learning to share and play in an area with others safely and being respectful to other people’s space and it’s correlations to cyber activity. Bit of a stretch? Let me explain.
Toddler sandpit play was an situation I used to teach my kids appropriate behaviour around others and how to respond to those who knock your sandcastle down or pinch your digger. It was a great exercise on how to be assertive but not a bully, and most importantly what NOT to do that to others. Pity not all parents recognised this learning opportunity. 3 year old Harrison was given free reign to push, shove, squash, steal and so on with little more than a “please Harrison, give the boy back his truck”. Little regard was given if darling Harrison actually did. Which he didn’t. The resolution was for my son and I to move to a different part of the sandpit. Harrison got away with what he had done and his mum was none the wiser to what she had inadvertently reinforced.
OK, so what has that got to do with cyber bullying and online activity?
The ‘sandpit’ play area for our teens is now cyber space. And as we all know, there is sooo much to do in this new sandpit! Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat and so on. It is awesome fun and teens and adults alike are immersed in them. But we also know acutely how horrific these places can be, caused by people not ‘playing nice’. Cyber interactions and bullying can be incredibly damaging and, for far too many, life threatening. Something has to be said about this, and not the standard blah, blah, blah.
It seems to me that the focus of dealing with online bullying these days is to put the responsibility on teaching the victims to be resilient enough to deal with horrendous situations. Excuse my french but fuck that. I think it is time that we as a society, we as parents, and we as fellow human beings take the stance that no it is NOT ok for 3 year old Harrison to continue knocking down sand castles and mum/dad ignoring the behaviour. And NO it is not OK for 15 year old Harrison to be behind the keyboard bullying people again with mum/dad complacent in their ignorance to what damage their darling is doing.
People might think it is a bit harsh to ‘pick on’ poor 3 year old Harrison, but my point here is that he was not taught during the sandpit days that his actions were not acceptable. By the time he is 15, he has a deep-rooted belief that he has little to no accountability for his actions; that someone upset by something he did or said is not his problem and that person should just ‘get over it’ or ‘harden up’. It is not easy to be objective as a parent and contemplate that your darling could be a bully. But I suspect if you actually observed behaviours you may get hints if this could be the case. To ignore those behaviours, or worse, endorse them should weigh heavily on your conscience.
If you speak to many parents of girls between the ages of 12 and 15 chances are they will probably attest to how bitchy their daughter can be towards them. The attitude issue is not exclusively a female thing; boys go through it too. But maybe we notice girls behaviour more because it can be put down to a gender biased bull shit of ‘boys being rough’ and ‘girls being sweet’. So when our girls are not so ‘sweet’, we notice? My point here is that if your teen can be blatantly rude and offensive to you, chances are they could be quite comfortable with doing it, or worse, to someone else. In which case you should be asking yourself “could my teen be bullying someone?”.
So what do I want parents to do? I want parents to be ACTIVELY telling their teens that being mean is not cool. Being a bully is not empowering. That picking on someone is actually an act of an arsehole. We need to enforce the notion that yes people have a right to their opinion but that does not mean they can be arseholes in the process (although this seems to be a bigger issue in the adult and political world, but that is for someone else’s commentary).
If you hear your teen talking about someone in a derogatory way, or they indicate they have been a part of a group chat involving someone being persecuted then call them out on it! Have discussions with your teens often about how words spoken/written can never be taken back. We need to put an end to social passive acceptance of bullying and stop putting the focus on the victims having to ‘toughen up’. I want us all to Shut That Shit Down!
The victims we are talking about here are young people who have the whole world in front of them! What a blight on our humanity that someone at the age of 14 can think that life is not worth living! How dare we think it is the responsibility of a child to just 'grin and bare' it, 'get over it' or 'just ignore it'. It should break the heart of every parent out there! (Swear words were removed from that previous sentence, but please re-read with emphasis, because it sure as hell was written with it.) Whatever the level of ‘uncomfortable’ for me it may be to admit that my teen could be being an arsehole is nothing compared to how a parent feels who has just found their teen with razor blade cuts on their wrists. Please don’t try dismiss this as me being overly dramatic – if my words shake one parent up enough to play a role in stopping another heartbreaking loss of a child then I am ok with sounding dramatic.
I for one will not sit by with my head up my arse thinking ‘my kids would never do that’ – even though I am pretty confident they wouldn’t. Having been victims themselves I remind them when they are emotive about something to keep what they say in check. I will continue to reinforce the notion that being a bully is NEVER acceptable. I will call out behaviours and shut down anything that I feel could be harmful to another person. I ask, implore, plead with all parents to just be vigilant and honest enough to recognise if your teen is being a Harrison. #ShutThatShitDown
If you have something derogative to say about someone, say it in your head not out loud or in writing. Words can never be taken back. Thoughts can change.
For support and/or information on this topic, please feel welcome to join the Talking Teens Not Alone closed group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TalkingTeensNotAlone/