We’ve all made fun of people sitting across the table from each other, looking at their phones and tablets instead of at the person right in front of them. Sometimes we talk to each other across the table though our phones! My wife and I have had public and (hopefully) humorous conversations on FaceBook while sitting a few feet from each other in the same room.
More often though, we see and offer criticism of this social media behavior and tend to call it anti-social behavior.
Now, with Covid-19, we’re all at home and out of school, out of work, and social-distancing. And with people needing to stay away from each other, these devices we criticize – and use – are a godsend. From our in-place shelters, we can reach out virtually to our loved ones, and order them these devices for as little as $50 if they don’t’ already have them – especially the elderly. My wife and I get face-to-face time with our son overseas through Messenger video, but aside from yelling to neighbors across the street, we’re all equivalently distant now, and for a while yet to come.
But there’s a flip side. With so much time on their hands, there’s almost certain to be an increase in cyberbullying. With so much fear of “the other” – religion, ethnicity, gender orientation – there’s certain to be an increase in unwanted behavior as boredom sets in and digital mischief increases. It seems that this virus could engender viral behavior.
Cyberbullying is characterized by hate speech, rude or sexual images, spreading of rumors, aggressive hurtful behavior spread via digital communication – phones, tablets, computers. Such cyberbullying can affect a child’s – or any person’s for that matter – mental and emotional well-being, self-image, and behavior.
What to do?
If you have children at home, it’s useful to put parental controls on their devices, limiting the time of usage and perhaps the sites they can visit. Encourage them to be in common areas of the home where you can observe and intervene if they are experiencing certain types of unwelcome or harmful communication.
Don’t respond to the behavior from the bully – it is generally best not to engage the person sending out such rudeness because it is likely to escalate and persist. Much of this type of behavior is for attention-getting. Giving the offender the attention that they crave will likely encourage them to continue and to heighten the behavior.
Take screen shots to document the behavior should you need to report it. This will help in reporting to authorities or the school if necessary. Different devices use different procedures for the purposes of screen shots. Googling your device and “screen shot” should get you to an instruction page or video. Of course, you can actually take a photo of the screen using a camera or a different phone. Be sure to get everything on the screen, including dates and times, text and pictures, handles and usernames.
Block the person. Most apps and devices provide a means to block a caller, texter, or “friend” on social media for any reason whatsoever.
If the offender is a person from your school or your child’s school, report the behavior and the person as soon as possible. Given that the school may not be answering their phones because so many are closed now, it might be best to send an email to the school. Include the documentation you’ve gathered. It is possible to file a complaint with the Department of Justice at firstname.lastname@example.org but do be aware that they are receiving thousands of complaints or more, so it would seem likely that you would receive more timely assistance locally.
Perhaps most importantly, talk to your child and encourage them to express their feelings about the behavior openly and without judgement.
The Common Sense Media website has much advice for safety with various social media apps, such as SnapChat, TikTok, FaceBook, and Instagram. To browse such advice, point your browser at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/ and then put your cursor over the “Parents Need to Know” tab, then select the topic of particular interest from the drop-down menu.
We live in interesting times, for sure. And they are surely challenging! But with a bit of encouragement, a bit of observation, and a bit of listening, we can make this a time to deepen relationships rather than a time of heightened abuse.