Kids are naturally impulsive. Part of the reason boils down to basic biology. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is in charge of planning, decision making and moderating social behavior doesn’t fully develop until we’re 25 years old. (That explains a few things, doesn’t it?!)
Living in a plugged-in society, instant gratification is more the rule than the exception. No wonder parents seek ways to control or at least curb rash, emotionally driven decisions that can spin into a life of their own online.
A recent study found that one in three kids will experience cyberbullying or be the subject of lies or vicious gossip. These situations can affect reputations, sometimes with disastrous, devastating results, including legal ramifications.
As your kids begin to engage with friends online via text or social media, casually discuss the following scenarios which can fuel big drama, emotional reactions and plenty of headaches if not handled well:
What would you want to do if your best friend shares a secret online that you confided to her?
Hurt, angry and embarrassed, your child might like to do all kinds of vengeful things to get back at her traitorous confidant. Empathize and then talk about how she should respond….
What should you do if s/he betrays you online?
Talk to someone you trust. Depending on what was said, the best course of action might be to call her on it. Avoid putting anything in writing. Pick up the phone and say, “I told you that in confidence. Why did you post that about me?” Ask her to remove the post. If she refuses, take the higher road by ignoring the post. If you continue to maintain the friendship, be careful about what you share in the future.
How would you react if a classmate sends a sexually provocative picture? Would you share it with your friends?
Delete the images immediately. Not only could sharing the images victimize the person who sent it by making them vulnerable to bullying and severe emotional distress, there have been several cases where teens were criminally prosecuted for sharing sexually explicit images of an underage peer. Even having the images on your family’s devices can result in criminal charges of child pornography. Read more here.
How would you handle it if someone spreads a hurtful, damaging rumor about you online?
If others ask you about it, firmly deny the rumors. Avoid retaliation and don’t let on to the person spreading the rumors that you’re rattled. Unfortunately, if you go out of your way to raise a defense online, people assume you have something to hide and your reaction can only serve to fan the flames. Stay confident, positive and upbeat in all of your communications. Continue maintaining a strong in-real-life network. Live your life in a way that would make people question the veracity of the rumors. Your friends might even speak up in your defense.
That said, if posts become threatening, save the evidence and show it to a parent. Contact appropriate authorities, including the other child’s parents, school administration and/or police.
What if you see a rumor posted online about a classmate you don’t like or who has hurt you in the past. Do you think that makes it okay to share with your friends?
Take the high road. You may not realize it, but when you take part in spreading hurtful gossip, you’re participating in bullying. Try to empathize with the person.
When talking to your kids, use real-life examples that appear online or in the news. Bring up how these situations make people feel and healthy ways to best manage high-charged emotions. While you won’t be able to stop every impulsive decision, by having conversations around these issues you’ll at least get your kids thinking about them. Hopefully, when they understand that you’re clued in, available and won’t come unhinged the minute a problem arises, they’ll come to you first if a problem arises.
Check out ThatsNotCool.com for more ideas for handling gossip and cyberbullying. To receive a free digital citizenship contract, sign up for my monthly e-newsletter.