I can still remember the sound of AOL signing on and the alert of a new message on AIM (AOL Instant Messanger). As a brand new teenager, this technology was literally the best thing to ever happen to any of us. Until it wasn’t.
I cannot recall exactly how or why it started, but it was the first time in my life I had learned about feeling insecure and ugly. Apparently, my awkward stage stood out more than my classmates’, and a few of them took it upon themselves to hide behind various screen names and harass me. It started with just making dumb comments, but quickly escalated into insulting my looks, my family, and more.
The one that still rings clear in my ear is, “You will never find a boyfriend, because you look just like a guy,” which was only one of the hundreds of insults. Something so ridiculous has haunted me for the past fourteen years. CRAZY, I know. But when people continually beat and beat and beat until you literally have no self-esteem left…that stuff tends to stick around. These words, along with all of the others, drove me into that dark hole that many are familiar with. You walk on egg shells when actually in the same room as these people and literally feel like your life is meaningless.
This is no way to live, and luckily, I found my way out.
My point with my personal story? Well, not many days pass anymore that we do not hear about some form of online bullying. We see young kids committing suicide, and we see terrible comments on grown women’s photographs on social media. The harsh reality that hiding behind a computer or phone screen has somewhere along the lines given people this false sense of confidence.
Scroll through your social media feed on any given day and you will stumble across an awful comment on a picture or post. Something that (9 times out of 10) the person would never say if the conversation were face-to-face. There is no delay between a reaction and a response. There is no reading of emotions or facial expressions, or any consideration of how they might handle the words. The words just flow right through the fingertips, onto a tiny screen, spewing hate through the world wide web.
Last year my then-second graders came home with tablets from their school. My daughter pulled up her Google docs slides and showed me that people were chatting in the comments section. At seven years old, one little girl told another that no one liked her, and she was ugly and annoying. Excuse me? You’re in second grade! Everyone is beautiful and best friends, right? This child had taken the privilege of having a personal computer and used it to turn on a classmate.
Right before my eyes I was reliving what my own mom went through, dealing with bullying as a parent.
There is no easy fix for something like this, and I’m not even trying to suggest that. However, for the parents out there, it’s okay to monitor your kids’ online activity like a hawk. They are kids for goodness sake, and this world is full of not-so-good people just looking to prey on our innocent babies. Not to mention, these children need to understand that even a typed word can hurt. It is not acceptable to bully anyone, let alone behind a computer screen. Face-to-face conversations need to be emphasized and encouraged.
And one more bit of advice for the adults, especially the women. Try to be kind, always. Just because you disagree with something someone posts, or do not approve of a photograph, leave it be. I believe the saying goes, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Having a discussion is one thing, but insulting someone is another.
Let us be the examples our children need and deserve, and continue making this world a brighter place, one person at a time.