My fourth-grade daughter was very excited when I finally allowed her to have her own E-mail address. A few of her school friends had them, and they started E-mailing each other after school which she really enjoyed. It was about little things like what they were going to wear the next day, if they had the right homework and things that had happened at school — you know, the things we used to use the telephone for!
I thought I was doing a good job keeping an eye on her with her foray into the online world, until I found out her after-school program was letting her log on to the internet to check her messages and she decided to look in her spam file.
The good news is there was nothing about “medications” or male “enhancers.” But there were spam ads from someone using a woman’s name. The bad news is that I got a call one afternoon from PunditGirl at aftercare saying, “Mom, I’m scared.”
She didn’t know why she was getting messages — repeatedly — from someone she didn’t know, and it freaked her out. When I was ten, I sure would have been having an anxiety attack, too, if someone was cold calling me several times a day and leaving mysterious, somewhat scary messages that I didn’t understand.
But that episode made me much more aware of the need to think about how to handle this and other things down the road, including potential cyberbullying. The over-protective mom in me wants to just cut off the technology, but I know she’ll access it someplace else — like my daughter’s friend who just sent me a Google chat message from another friend’s house (I’m sure her mom would be mortified) while I was writing this.
Aside from thinking about ways to protect our kids, or help them deal with the apparent growing trend of internet intrusions and cyberbullying, I’ve been thinking about bullying in general and how we treat each other and how that’s reflected on reality TV. Is it any wonder that our children get the message that it’s okay to be mean without limits when our older kids (and some of our younger ones) are exposed to the Real Mean Housewives, Toddlers and Tiaras, and other crazy shows that encourage people to adopt the bully persona for the sake of “entertainment?”
Bullying obviously has been around since kids were kids or as PunditGirl likes to say about my childhood, “since the dinosaur days.” Unless we were Rizzo or Romi & Michelle, we all suffered our share of bullying in our pre-teen and teen days, but when the only way to do it was in person, I suspect it kept things to a minimum, what with teachers, parents and other adults around most of the time. The relative anonymity of Twitter, Facebook and just being online in general makes it much easier for kids to be mean to each other in a whole new way — it’s almost a license to see just how much they can get away with.
So while part of this issue is about how we manage our children in the online world, part of it is also what kind of people we are teaching them to be. If we’re mean to others in front of our children or if we allow them to watch shows that make their money from promoting people’s inner bullies, how can we expect them to behave in any different way? No one is perfect, and I’m not talking about never losing one’s temper or letting a stray f-bomb slip from time to time. But maybe if we were a little kinder in our daily lives and at least waited until our children are in bed before we switch on the Bravo badness, we could take a little step toward convincing them that kindness and reaching out online is WAY better, and much more rewarding, than being a bully.