Hanging out online, putting forth your ideas, sharing your thoughts, opinions and emotions for the whole world to view and digest, has become one of the primary ways we communicate, are entertained and seek out information.
The freedom we have to share all of this, means we are also opening the door to be praised, to be supported and to be shown empathy toward. We are also putting ourselves on the line to be judged, trolled, confronted and even abused.
As a frequent user of social media I have seen the damage done when someone puts something seemingly innocent out there, only to be unwittingly attacked. Some adults cope with this and are able to ignore the haters. Some do not cope so well.
But what about when this happens to our kids? Our kids who are getting so much of their validation from what happens online?
The bottom line is, if you are going to hang out online, which at the moment is a good deal of the worlds population, then you will only survive it, if you wrap yourself up in a big fat thick skin.
There is always people out there who love to find a loophole in your argument. People who love to cling to a weakness and go forth and exploit. They love to counter a belief or ideology. There is nothing really wrong with that. We should be having passionate conversations. Arguments even, over what are the best ways to do things. That is how we learn and grow. But we need to remember to do it in a way that shows respect. And if we cant guarantee others will do that, we need to grow a thick skin, so we are able to accept, ignore or move on.
When putting something online I find myself second guessing what the ‘opposes’ will say. I know there are counter arguments for most beliefs. As long as I can back myself up, be confident that my own experiences have led to that belief, then I am able to accept their argument and happily move forward. But it is not always easy and I know so many struggle to do that. I know people have stopped writing because of comments on their blogs. I know people who won’t write what they really feel for fear of backlash.
We know there are many kids who have paid the ultimate price for listening to what the haters have said.
One only needs to read the comments on some of the bigger blogs to see where this has almost become a sport. Sometimes it is as if they read articles simply to find a counter argument to get out all their rants and rages. Sometimes they are genuinely passionate about an issue and want to get their point across, but do so in a way that shows no respect for opposing views. Berating others becomes their main tool.
I recently saw a clip of celebrities reading out all the horrible tweets that people had written about them. The clip actually sounded funny when read by the celebrities themselves. Although it was amazing how horrible people felt they could be, fighting back with humour seemed to be the very best comeback.
So how do we give our kids the skills to deal with the haters? How do we build that thick skin that they will need if they are going to put themselves on display?
- Talk to your kids about the importance of sticking to what you believe in but respecting the views of others
- Encourage your kids to take regular breaks from the screens so that they dont get consumed by the words of others
- Talk about the necessity of having discussions and even arguments. When people become abusive however, then it is no longer a fair discussion and it is time to bow out and ignore
- Role model good online behaviour. If something makes you angry, take a breath, go for a walk or sleep on it before you write. Usually you will respond quite differently when it is not in the heat of the moment.
It would be nice if everyone just showed respect to others and to themselves. But unfortunately we know that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The very vastness of the online world ensures we are unable to wrap ourselves in any cocoon. Cybersafety 101 must always include lessons on coping with the angry people, the arrogant and the mean. If we want to survive this world, we must build this resilience for ourselves and for our children.