We’ve all heard awful stories in relation to cyber bullying. You may have seen disturbing videos of bullying and cyber bullying. Unfortunately these videos are becoming more and more common.
Of course bullying is nothing new; lots of kids have felt the need to put others down in a bid to feel more powerful or popular since the dawn of time. With social media and instant messaging apps becoming such a large part of life, they have simply added a new medium for bullying which can be even worse than its physical form.
It’s not likely bullying will ever stop as long as we remain human beings. However it may be useful to get to the root cause of it as a first step towards minimising its impact.
Why Do Some Children Bully Others?
There can be many reasons for children to bully others. Bullying is all about asserting power over another person in an attempt to feel or prove they are better than that person. A child may believe that bullying others will make them more popular, and might gain them respect.
Some children may follow along because they think it’s socially acceptable, or because they want to support their friend who is doing it. Some children become bullies after they’ve been bullied by others in a bid to make sure they’re not on the receiving end anymore.
It’s Easier Online
With children spending so much of their lives online, bullying has become easier. Children who may lack the physical strength to bully others physically, or who might never be nasty to someone else’s face, may behave entirely differently when they’re hiding behind a screen. Bullying others may make them feel better about themselves. For some it may just be something fun to do that they don’t think is serious.
Either way, while physical bullying is still a real problem for many students in schools, cyber bullying has become very common in all primary schools and high schools – there’s no escaping it.
The Root Cause of Cyber Bullying
Back to our question of the root cause of cyber bullying. There can be many layers to peel off that contribute towards it. Many bullies are insecure, lacking much-needed attention and are unhappy in themselves. It’s not often a completely well-adjusted, happy child feels the need to bully others.
At the base level of it, the root cause of cyber bullying is a cultural problem that revolves around a lack of empathy. That is, kids don’t stop to think about how they would feel if they were in another person’s shoes.
Cyber Bullying Seems Funny
When I talk to primary school students I show them a slide with typical cyber bullying examples on it. The comments on the slide include things like “Wow, you’re so ugly”, “The world would be a better place without you”, and “Everybody hates you”. All of these comments are sadly commonplace online.
The reaction I see from this slide is always the same: they laugh. The more comments they read, the more they laugh. They point out the ones they think are funniest to their friends. It’s all a big joke to them.
After I show this slide we do a role play, and I ask them to really think about how they might feel if they were on the receiving end of those comments. I explain that many of the kids receiving these comments don’t want to come to school. They develop anxiety which often leads to depression. Sometimes they self-harm, and have suicidal thoughts. And worst case scenario, some even commit suicide. It’s at about this point that these kids realise that maybe those comments aren’t so funny after all.
Comments Are Made Through A Screen To A Person
One of the points I make to children is that when you’re writing messages online you’re not writing to a screen. You’re writing THOUGH a screen TO a person. And that person has feelings and emotions just like they do.
I explain that this is called empathy, and that empathy means putting yourself in another person’s shoes and thinking about how they might feel. Sadly it’s a new concept for many children.
It’s Not Their Fault
I don’t blame children for not feeling a lot of empathy, or not stopping to think about how others might feel if they write a message online. This is a cultural issue and I think there are several reasons for it.
First, you only have to listen to the news to hear one shocking true story after another. Shootings seem to happen regularly, people are being murdered, and then there’s the threat of terrorism. And we’re only just getting started. It’s natural and in fact important to be able to take a step back and not get too upset by it all.
Think about it: if you were to really be empathetic towards every person you hear about who loses a loved one or goes through a difficult experience you wouldn’t be able to function, you’d be crying non-stop in a permanent state of depression. That might be part of the reason why depression is so common.
Children see and hear so much bad news and they see so many instances of bullying online that it becomes normal to them. It loses its impact and simply becomes part of normal behaviour from their perspective; it’s just a part of life. They shrug their shoulders and don’t see it as a big deal.
As far as thinking first before sending a nasty comment, children aren’t wired to do this. It isn’t natural. They are impulsive and just like they say things without thinking first, they write them in a similar manner. A lot of the children who post hurtful comments online have no concept of the effects their comments may be having on their recipients.
It Won’t Happen Overnight…But It Can Happen
If the root cause of cyber bullying is a lack of empathy, and this is a cultural issue, it’s clearly not an easy issue to fix. If it was simple then bullying – both offline and online – could have been stamped out long ago. Not only is it a complex problem, it’s also one that will take years to change, if it ever can.
I believe there is a lot we can do as parents to help teach our children to be more empathetic (without them going crazy!), and I think this is one of the most valuable lessons we can teach. We need to prepare our children to be decent people who are able to face the real world as they grow into teenagers and adults.
I offer a lot of help in this regard through public speaking in schools, my monthly membership group and also my Peaceful Digital Parenting solution. The best way to get more information is to register to join me on my next free live webinar (even if you can’t make it live, you can watch it on replay). I hope to see you there!