Practicing Kindness in an Age of Online Bullying

With International Day for Tolerance and World Kindness Day both taking place in November, it’s as good a time as any to address the pervasive problem of bullying – specifically online bullying. A lot of work has been done to raise awareness of this digital form of bullying but so much work has yet to be done.

The problem doesn’t seem to be going away. In fact, it may be getting worse thanks to the growing reliance on social media. More than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online; the same number have engaged in cyberbullying. More than one in three young people have experienced cyberthreats online and more than 25 percent of teens have been bullied repeatedly via their smartphones or the Internet. Perhaps the most alarming is that well over half of young people don’t tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs.

What is Cyber Bullying?

Cyberbullying is a type of teen violence that can result in long-lasting harm to youth, affecting teens on a daily basis – but it can also happen to younger children and adults too. It involves the use of technology, such as smartphones and the Internet, to bully or harass another person. Cyberbullying takes many forms, such as:

  • Sending unkind or rude messages or threats to a person’s email or cell phone
  • Spreading false rumors online or through texts
  • Posting threatening or hurtful messages on social media sites
  • Stealing someone’s account information to send damaging messages
  • Pretending to be another person online in order to hurt someone
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and sending them via smartphone or the Internet
  • Sexting or sending sexually suggestive messages about someone else

Cyberbullying is damaging to teens in so many ways, often resulting in anxiety, depression, and even suicide. The fact that once something is posted online it may never disappear is the worst part about this type of bullying. Because pictures and messages can resurface repeatedly at later dates, the pain of cyberbullying is renewed over and over again.

Cyberbullies often hide behind a computer or phone and don’t make the connection between themselves and another real human being with feelings. They often don’t realize the consequences for themselves and the recipients of cyberbullying. In fact, the things they post online now can come back to haunt them later when applying for college or a job.

If the cyberbullying involves sexting, this can even result in being registered as a sex offender which can follow them for life.

A Little Kindness

With International Day for Tolerance and World Kindness Day upon us, perhaps it’s time to step back and reflect on how a little kindness can go a long way. It’s certainly possible to create homes, schools, and communities where kindness is the norm, not the exception. But in order to achieve that, kindness must be taught, nourished, modeled, and rewarded.

Compassionate thinking and generous actions show kindness. But these days, many school administrators respond to bad behavior such as bullying with punishment, with the assumption that “zero-tolerance” will end bullying and violence. Truth is, punishment-based approaches don’t always work. Many leaders, then, have chosen to focus on teaching and modeling pro-social behavior such as kindness.

Here are some ways we can teach kindness:

  • Offer gratitude activities
  • Offer volunteer activities or service-learning
  • Help students develop activities to help others
  • Facilitate respectful conversations
  • Hold open-ended discussion questions
  • Encourage working together
  • Teach and model kindness in everyday life
  • Teach mindfulness, which involves awareness of a specific thought, behavior, or emotion.
  • Instill Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), which focuses on cooperation, responsibility, self-control, and empathy, with the inclusion of specific actions to build these skills.
  • Encourage Acts of Kindness: They’re free and come with positive ripple effects to those who experience and witness kindness.

Studies have shown that children and teens who are taught kindness are more empathic, socially aware, and connected, plus they get higher grades too.

If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, there is help available. Comprehensive MedPsych Systems offers therapy and counseling for all types of bullying. Get your children the help they need now, and contact us at one of our many convenient locations.