This post is sponsored by Google’s “ Be Internet Awesome” campaign. All opinions are 100% mine.
Online bullying is running rampant in our culture, ruining countless lives in the process. One cannot escape the daily articles on social media and television of numerous lives lost because of the hopelessness felt from bullying, most often bullying that happens online.
Because October is National Bullying Prevention Month, we have teamed up with Google and their “Be Internet Awesome” campaign to encourage parents and kids to be kind online! “Be Internet Awesome” is a resource that includes both a curriculum for teachers and a family guide for parents provided by Google in both English and Spanish. This resource is “designed to teach kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.”
Like everything in life, the internet can be used for great purposes and to achieve tremendous goals of building community and support. But unfortunately, it can also be used to devastating consequences. As parents, we must take seriously the job of preparing our children to conduct themselves with kindness and grace both in real life and online. One cannot be considered a kind person if they are not kind in all their personas, online and otherwise.
My own children are young enough that we do not yet allow digital communication, but the time is coming soon…especially for my 10-year old who now has to do quite a bit of schoolwork online. The conversation about digital behavior is definitely one that is essential to every child’s character development and something that all parents need to engage in. We cannot rely on schools or youth pastors to teach our children how to be good digital citizens.
Here are 5 ways to teach your child to be kind online:
1. Be a good example.
Although our children might not be reading all of our Facebook messages over our shoulders, perhaps we should conduct ourselves online as if they are. We need to model kind and generous behavior all of the time, not only when we know our kids are watching. Engaging in online “discussions” rarely leads to a change of heart, political or otherwise. Commit yourself to avoiding triggers that might warrant an unkind response and focus on being positive and kind online.
2. Find opportunities to foster empathy face-to-face.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “empathy” is defined as, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
In the book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World, Dr. Borba argues that empathy is the antidote to self-consumption and, ultimately, to bullying. The more that we can allow our children the opportunity to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and identify the feelings that other person might be struggling with, the more they can think outside of themselves. One way to encourage empathy is to allow your children time with the very young and the very old. Babies are a wonderful way to help children learn how to discern feelings. And being around older people, whether it is great grandparents or visiting strangers in the nursing home, offers your child an excellent opportunity to foster empathy and compassion.
When we encourage face-to-face interactions over digital interactions, we are helping our children learn what it means to be part of a community and how we can spread kindness and compassion to those around us.
3. Define what it means to be positive and how to constructively resolve conflict.
Although we will not always feel positive and upbeat, we can commit ourselves to not responding online unless what we have to say is positive and constructive. Conflicts will arise and if we do have a concern to address, it is probably best to do so face-to-face. If that is not an option, however, teach your child to use the sandwich method. Sandwich the concern between two positive comments or compliments.
4. Take the IRL test.
Before your child writes a message in a text, email, or social media post, encourage him/her to take the “IRL” test. Would he/she say the same thing to someone “in real life”, face-to-face? If not, prompt him/her to reconsider.
Likewise, if conflicts arise, urge your child (and yourself) to communicate in person rather than over text, email, or social media. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect when we engage with someone from behind a screen. We often forget that the other person is a living, breathing human being with tender feelings and their own set of life’s challenges.
5. Be an “Upstander” and stand up for the vulnerable.
The “Be Internet Awesome” curriculum defines an “Upstander” as anyone who sees bullying and chooses to intervene by standing up for kindness and positivity. This might be the most difficult concept of all to teach our children. After all, how does one teach courage? It is so much easier to teach your child not to be a bully than it is to teach him/her to stand up to one.
Being choosing to be an “Upstander” might be the most important step to prevent bullying. Here are some ways to be an “Upstander”:
(1) Call out bullying when you see it by saying, “That’s bullying and it is not kind.” Be careful not to unintentionally “bully” the bully by saying unnecessary hurtful things to him/her.
(2) Report the bullying to an adult.
(3) Flood the target of the bullying with positive messages and comments…and encourage others to as well.
(4) Invite the person who has been bullied to spend time with you in real life, playing together at recess, sitting together at lunch, or spending time outside of school.
Books that help instill the concept of being an Upstander:
One by Kathryn Otoshi
Wonder by R.J Palacio
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
Google’s “Be Internet Awesome” Program is great for parents and teachers, providing an assortment of materials including a game called “Interland” that can help your child put their anti-bullying skills to the test.