In today’s digital age, the majority of kids consider their online life just as important as their real life. With 95% of young people owning a smartphone, over half of them (59%) have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Whether they’re going back to school or changing schools, arming our children with a digital resilience toolkit to handle cyber-hate and digital discourse is just as crucial as stuffing their backpacks.
Think Twice, Post Once
The sad reality is that incivility exists, especially online. There is a rise in cyberbullying nationwide according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It’s imperative to understand how this behavior is affecting young people, especially teens. We’ve seen the increase in teen depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
In an ideal world, all the anti-bullying songs, t-shirts, bracelets, quotes, campaigns, and hashtags would end online bullying. But the reality is this is human behavior. All of these things do bring awareness and information, as well as education to this important topic, but parents still must be diligent in learning how they can be proactive in their child’s life offline in order to promote social wellness online.
While cyberbullying and hate is human behavior that we don’t have control over, we can choose how we respond to it. Talking to children about building a resilience toolkit by developing attitudes of self-respect, empathy for others, and honesty is key. However, with the majority of youth digitally connected today, we need to talk about digital resilience, too.
5 Ways to Develop a Digital Resilience Toolkit
1. Be prepared for the ugly side of the Internet.
Being forewarned is being forearmed. No matter what your age, there will be people who make distasteful comments or who don’t agree with you. However in cyberspace, with the lack of accountability and boundaries, know that some people use their keypad as a weapon rather than a tool.
2. Show your teen how to block, flag, and report abusive content.
According to a Cyberbullying Research Center survey, blocking was the most successful way to stop a bully. Emphasize the importance of telling someone “in real life” about the incident. It’s vital your child knows they can tell you (or a trusted adult) when they are being harassed online, especially if they feel threatened.
3. Show your teen how easily digital pictures can be manipulated.
The realization that not everything is what it seems to be online — that life is not as perfect as it may seem virtually — is a useful first step. Teens may be familiar with the digital world but less familiar with the motivations for creating “fake” images. Diana Graber, author of Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology, cautions these feelings can promote a “compare and despair” attitude in young people.
4. Critical thinking.
Help children to think through the possible consequences of what they post online. Remind them that there is no rewind or erase button. Once something is posted it’s nearly impossible to take it back. Fifteen minutes of humor is not worth a lifetime of humiliation. Today their digital landscape can be the deciding factor for their higher education as well as their employment prospects.
5. Encourage your teen to socialize in person with their friends.
Communicating solely behind a screen can be isolating. Socializing in person builds more face-to-face contact in helping your child build empathy and compassion towards people. Parenting expert Michele Borba, EdD, and author of UnSelfie, argues that we need a renewed emphasis on teaching our kids empathy. She says, “Empathy can be cultivated; we just have to work it into our parenting agenda.”
Our kids may always be an app ahead of us, but they will always need our parenting wisdom. Start early and chat frequently about online life and safety matters. You will have a healthier child and one better equipped to handle the reality that digital life isn’t always picture perfect.
About the Author
Sue Scheff is a Nationally Recognized author, Parent Advocate and Family Internet Safety Advocate. She founded Parents Universal Resources Experts, Inc. in 2001. She has been featured on the Today Show, 20/20, Anderson Cooper and more. She’s also a contributor for Psychology Today, NBC’s Education Nation and Today Show Parents. You can follow her on Twitter and join her on Facebook.
Digital Resilience Toolkit – Sources
Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate
Pew Research – Teens, Social Media, and Technology
National Center for Education Statistics
UT Southwestern Medical Center – Suicide statistics
Cyberbullying Research Center survey
Diana Graber author of Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology
Channel CCR – College admissions
Psychology Today – Employers reviewing social media