I don’t want my daughter to get bullied (online or otherwise). I also don’t want her to stay silent if she sees bullying going on. I especially don’t want her to become a bully herself.
My daughter got her first iPad at 5 months old (it was only fair, she waited on the apple store line for 5 hours with me) and our whole family spends a lot of time online and in ‘the cloud’. Adi is going to come across online bullies sooner or later (probably sooner) and I’m struggling to figure out how to prepare her for it. I can teach her to try and ignore it. I can certainly teach her to not become a bully herself. I can’t however, shield her from it entirely. I can’t firewall the universe.
Bullying is sneaky. It’s pervasive. It’s down right cruel. And it’s hard to combat. Children who are bullied are too ashamed to seek help. Children who witness bullying don’t want to snitch on the bully.
Online bullying is worse. It’s sneakier. Often times you don’t know who the bully is- and even if you do- you can’t prove it one way or the other. Only a few years ago, bullying used to end when you got home from school. With new and social media the bullying continues into your own home.
Bullies looking to feel more powerful or somehow better, look for differences and vulnerabilities that they can exploit to hurt the victim. Too often that difference is race, ethnicity, presumed immigration status, or poor English speaking skills.
There’s a category of online bully called “troll”. Trolls leave nasty and often out of context comments on all of your online posts.
Last year, I was famous for about 10 minutes when I made a twitter feed poking fun at Mayor Bloomberg’s Spanish. After that I had some trolls follow every single thing I did online and leave asinine/mean/racist comments. They also sent hate e-mail. And even a year later I STILL have a couple of trolls. ‘White Hispanic socialist who believes the United States stole Mexico’ is probably my favorite of all the insults thrown at me online.
One time I was called a racist and a reverse-racist (can somebody explain ‘reverse-racist’ to me? I’m still not sure what it means) in the same post. But I’m an adult, who isn’t forced to sit in a classroom with my online bullies every day. I can deal with (read: ignore) the haters and keep doing my thing. In the beginning I got really bummed out about these online trolls, but I soon realized that I have too many bridges to build to deal with the trolls who might take up residence under them.
One day my daughter will Google (or whatever future dominant search engine turned verb du jour) my name and undoubtedly come across my trolls attacking me. And she’ll see my responses. To paraphrase the ex-girlfriend in The Social Network ‘the internet is written in ink’. I need to make sure that I can defend or explain (or turn into a teachable moment) all of my internet contributions.
I want my daughter to be safe and happy online. Every parent wants their child to have a safe and productive internet life. I can’t imagine the rage I would feel of I found out she was being bullied online.
It’s exhausting, and relentless, and it’s driving kids to the point of suicide. Wonderful, smart, amazing kids who had so much to offer our society are being driven to the point of ending their lives. Many times the parents don’t have the English skills to complain to the police, and when they do they don’t know it’s an option. Lucky (relatively) for me when I was in school, social media wasn’t a thing yet, and my school bullying stayed at school. I’m not sure how I would have dealt with the bullying coming out of my computer. Social media is still relatively new, and therefore laws, social etiquette, and bullying support resources are nonexistent and/or undefined. How many more bright kids will be destroyed before something is done?
The only advice I can think of to deal with online bullying is to talk to someone about it.
Take screenshots, and gather evidence and go to the police if the bullying becomes threatening or harassment. DO NOT engage the bullies online. Often times they want to drag you into the fray so they can attack you more. Keep you chin up and keep doing your thing- because while that bully is spending all of her/his time messing with you you’re spending that time getting ahead. Todo se pone mejor.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.