Today, I read that cyber bullying is an epidemic.
An epidemic? Is it really an epidemic? Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely against taunting on social media sites. And, I agree that teens sometimes are cruel on social media and it leads to horrible consequences. But is it really an epidemic? My problem with this intense attention on cyber bullying is that I’m not sure any of us know what that word really means. It’s really hard to know when teens online are crossing the line because it seems to me they are always crossing the line.
Today, most teens aren’t reluctant to post anything on social media. They play out their entire lives online. One girl posted horrible things on my son’s Facebook page because he wouldn’t help her jump a fence and cut class. He just wrote her back an equally obnoxious post. I forced him to take the entire conversation off Facebook. He told me I was making a big deal out of nothing.
It’s pretty clear that social media is transforming the teen experience. It has provided a platform for practices that are good, bad, and ugly. What’s really different today is that those practices are far more visible because they leave traces and more people see them. But when you look at what teens are doing online, they’re doing what they’ve always done at this stage – socialize, gossip, flirt, joke around. Sometimes, what I think is bullying or offensive, my kids just view as normal teen interaction. I’m always asking questions, trying to figure out this “connected” generation and their different way of thinking.
I just learned what a subtweet was on Twitter. It’s directly referring to a particular person without mentioning their name or directly mentioning them. Basically, it’s talking about someone behind their back but sort of in their face on Twitter! Example, “wearing mini skirts is so geeky #dressbetter.” Would you consider that cyberbullying? I find it cruel but teens find it normal online conversation.
Danah Boyd, author of The Social Lives of Networked Teens has studied teen online interaction and said, “I expected bullying to be much worse because of the Internet but I’m confident in the data that shows that it’s not.”
There’s a chorus of adult voices — online and off — who are scared by teen’s heavy use of technology. So, I say, parents: don’t be frightened, be involved. Let your teen teach you how and why they’re using social media, ask a LOT of questions, even if they are annoyed by it. When you get a glimpse into the complex teenage online world, you can make your own mind up about cyberbullying. Yes, it definitely exists and if you suspect your kid is involved, you definitely should step in. But I think we all need to try harder to figure out exactly what cyberbullying is today before we call it an epidemic.
Parents, what are your thoughts on cyberbullying? When do you thinking normal teen online interaction crosses the line into cyberbullying? Have you ever asked your teen to remove something from his or her social media sites?