Why Girls Need to Learn About CyberDRAMA, Not Just CyberBULLYING
If it bleeds, it leads: it’s a popular saying in journalism that refers to our attraction to sensational, often violent headlines. As an anti-bullying educator, I have seen something similar: we tend to focus on the most extreme levels of bullying as a way to teach and build awareness.
The problem is that most kids are not bullied in such dramatic ways. Yet almost every child experiences day-to-day aggression. If we only teach intervention strategies for the worst crimes, we don’t teach kids to cope with the daily injustices. We imply that only the most extreme aggression is problematic, while other behaviors – like saying “just kidding” after you do something mean, or giving someone the silent treatment – are unavoidable rites of passage. Lacking the tools to deal with these smaller infractions, kids are more vulnerable to the “flare-ups” of extreme behavior.
This same emphasis on extremes is evident in the anti-cyberbullying world. Most of what’s out there for parents and girls focuses on what to do when the building is already on fire. But what about preventing the fire in the first place?
I’ve spent several years traveling around the country talking with students about how to avoid drama – by which I mean conflict – online. It’s worth mentioning that I rarely use the word “cyberbullying” in my assemblies. That’s because of what I call “cyberbullying fatigue:” many kids have been lectured already about what to do if they are bullied online. While fatigue is a happy sign of the success of anti-cyberbullying initiatives, it also points to the need for more textured education about digital citizenship.
As the girls in your life prepare to begin their school year, consider sharing some of these tips on avoiding drama online. You can find several more girl-friendly video tips in my BFF 2.0 series.
If you wouldn’t say it, don’t send it. When they are upset, girls type things they would never say to someone’s face. Surges of panic and anger lead to impulsive messages that leave smoldering holes in relationships.
I give girls two tips to avoid making this mistake.
First, if you are obsessed with the need to send a message, and it is a need so powerful that your house could be burning down, but you would want to keep texting (or chatting, or whatever), you should not be typing. You are too upset and likely to say something you don’t mean. Put down the phone or walk away from the computer.
Second, if you suspect a conflict is brewing with someone via text or online, slow yourself down. Before you post or send your message, read aloud to yourself what you have written. Ask yourself: would you actually say these words to the person? If the answer is yes, press send. If the answer is no or maybe, go back and edit it. Say it out loud again: does it sound like something you would say? Are you using capital letters to “yell” online when you probably wouldn’t raise your voice in real life? Do not press send until what you have written matches what you might say.
Do not fight with your friends online. Here’s what appeals to girls about fighting with friends online: First, you don’t have to deal with looking the person in the eye or hearing her voice. Second, you have all the time you need to come up with just the right reply. Go ahead and acknowledge these perks to your girls – then pick them apart.
When you’re not looking at someone, you stop thinking about her feelings. When we do not make eye contact, we are less sensitive to hurting the other person and more focused on venting our own emotions. We are likely to say things we don’t mean. We get puffed up with false confidence that quickly evaporates and leaves us with a mess.
When we can’t hear someone’s voice, it’s hard to know what tone the other person is using. Misunderstandings happen constantly: All we see are the words on the screen, so we might decide the person is angry without actually knowing the truth. Unnecessary drama often results.
Tell your daughter that fighting online can seem like a good idea when you think about it, but when you actually try it, it gets messy quickly. Technology is never a substitute for honest, real relationships. As hard as it feels to talk to someone face-to-face or voice-to-voice, this is the best and only way to settle conflicts with respect and maturity. Email can be an exception, if it is used with care. When email becomes a gateway for angry texts or chats, it is no longer productive.
Do not use social media to vent about your relationships. Social media allows users to post status updates, quick public statements that usually say where or how they are. Unfortunately, many girls use status updates to vent about people, inviting their entire social network to observe, weigh in or, worse, become involved.
Here’s an update posted by a middle school student, available to several hundred of her closest “friends:” “So glad ur nt in my life anymore! Im beta off without you!” These are almost guaranteed drama starters because the subject of the update feels embarrassed, angry or otherwise compelled to retaliate. Talk to your daughter about what it is appropriate to share in an update, and what is best left between individuals.
This post is based on the newly revised and updated Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. The new OGO includes four new chapters on girls, bullying, social media and parenting in a digital age. Order it now!