We are inundated by technology, but it’s here to stay. Toddlers are enamored by the touch screen games on an iPad and teenagers’ smartphones seem to be a permanent extension of their hand. Everywhere you look, you see people fully immersed in their devices, unaware of their surroundings. They’re interactive, enticing and engaging; but without guidelines, anybody can fall into serious trouble easily, especially children.
The younger generation will always be more tech-savvy than the previous generation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t offer strategies for its proper usage. One of the biggest issues that need to be addressed is cyberbullying. With widespread access to the worldwide web, we have seen and heard countless stories of children being publicly humiliated, shamed, and harassed to a level higher than they are equipped to handle. In worst-case scenarios, this has caused many children to end their lives.
Countering cyberbullying and the misuse of social media needs a two-prong approach, the focus of which should be on prevention and setting clear parameters for technology use. Adults need to set guidelines before our children have access to increasingly sophisticated technology and throughout the course of its usage.
Before giving your child any piece of technology, be sure to review your expectations for its use: how it should be handled with respect toward themselves and others. Outline rules regarding safety, privacy and the notion that once you post something out there, it’s out there forever. Display the rules on their phones, near the family computer or on the refrigerator.
Reinforce the notion that any misuse on their part will result in the technology being curtailed or taken away. Better yet, help foster a healthier relationship with technology with some “digital detox” as a family. Put in place a “Tech-free Tuesday” or attend an event without posting about it. Unplug at dinner and converse, old school style.
Most unkind texting, accrues after 10pm. Make it a hard and fast rule that all technology must be placed at the family docking station before bed.
It is alarming to read the statistics that say 77 percent of students have been bullied verbally, mentally or physically, and about 160,000 students miss school daily because of bullying (NoBullying.com). Social media makes it easier than ever to bully someone with anonymity and the click of a button. Regretful incidents on social media go “viral” for all the world to see, comment on and replay endlessly.
Clearly, children need to have an adult that they can come to and share any difficulty they may be having online. Today’s child needs to know even if they’re entangled in social media problems, there are ways to get out of it. They can: delete, unfriend, unfollow, block, step away and turn off the device. It is vital to tell them that no one should partake in something that is not making them feel good, even if it feels like everyone else is doing so. When we start empowering our children in this manner, they begin to get a greater sense of pride and self-worth. Self-esteem comes from within; it is never gained by other people’s approval.
It is difficult to combat the appeal and force of the “like” button, constantly checking the number of friends and followers with each post. Yet, we must try to break the cycle and the need for external validation. In my book, “Don’t Press Send: A Mindful Approach To Social Media, An Education In Cyber Civics,” I relay the importance of educating people to incorporate mindfulness in their daily activities, especially communication. This, in turn, strengthens our empathetic skills.
Parents and educators must to be vigilant about checking on how their kids are doing, socially and emotionally. Teens today are enmeshed in social media, yet oftentimes they feel lonely, disconnected and overwhelmed even though they seemingly have tons of “friends” in the cyber community. It is important that we empower and equip our children with the tools necessary to combat this minefield that social media can create.
The Barrier Of The Screen
I believe that the computer screen creates an emotional disconnect, causing children and adults to be less empathetic. Because of the lack of face-to-face interaction, technology users may, intentionally or otherwise, create an unkind, self-absorbed online discourse. Without body language, verbal tone and facial expressions to help us convey the impact of our words, the intention of a conversation can easily get misconstrued or cause a great deal of pain to many people. If you wronged someone online and want to make amends, apologize face-to-face or on the phone. Be real, and vow to be more mindful in the future.
If your child feels unsafe online and feels like he/she is a victim of cyberbullying or harassment, reach out to your school administration and the school psychology and guidance departments. Most schools are now trained in protocol thanks to recent legislation like New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act. On the federal level, the government is taking important steps to curtail this epidemic, providing resources such as StopBullying.gov, among other measures. The most important part of dealing with the difficult situation of cyberbullying, is getting your child help so that he or she can move past these incidents feeling supported and empowered. The Don’t Press Send Campaign educates in three ways: the book (DontPressSendBook.com), the app (DontPressSendApp.com), and student and parent presentations.
The cyber universe is unfamiliar territory to many, but we can’t ignore our responsibility to provide guidelines. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for not having all the rules in place, because nobody could have predicted the warp speed at which it has progressed. We must stay involved and enact some positive reform so that we can end cyberbullying and the misuse of social media. An education in cyber civics is how we can all make a world of difference.
Katie Schumacher, Author and Founder of Don’t Press Send, Inc.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.