by Julian Henderson with Dr. Jennifer Freed
I participated in AHA! 10 years ago as a teen. Now, as a 27-year-old facilitator for youth in that same program, I see firsthand the impact that cyberbullying has on today’s youth.
Many youth come to AHA!’s after-school connection circles emotionally tormented due to bullying in the cyberworld. One teen came in to an after-school group so distraught from a hurtful comment on one of her Facebook photos that it took her a whole 30 minutes just to calm down enough to check in.
This kind of shaming is absolutely unacceptable. We need to communicate to young people that bullying of any kind is cruel behavior that we will not stand for.
By working to delete such hurtful behavior, we make it clear to youth that we are committed to eliminating all forms of hate, bigotry, and bullying.
How are we to achieve this?
In AHA!, we teach that the only appropriate response when we see cyberbullying statements is to delete (where we can) and to make positive, supportive remarks to the person who is being targeted.
Anyone who has attempted to counter negative online remarks with inflammatory or retaliatory comments knows that there’s little point in going that route.
Many young people in our society don’t feel that they belong, and these are often the ones who turn to the Web to put others down. Punishing or lashing back at these wrongdoers adds to the sense of ostracism and aloneness that has led them to cyberbully others in the first place.
By working to delete cyberbullying, we can communicate to these individuals that we see them and that we care about them too. This is the only way to truly de-escalate digital violence.
Hate is more easily spewed now due to the quick and anonymous channels of the Internet and the disconnection people can feel behind the coolness of a keyboard. We don’t have to turn our backs on this incredible 21st century source of innovation, information, and enriching interconnectedness to combat cruel online behavior.
Responding to cruel statements with loving, uplifting, supportive statements for the person being bullied reclaims the keyboard as a tool for uplifting people. In working to delete cyberbullying in this way, we get back to using the Internet for what it was initially created for: to connect the world wide webs of people and knowledge on our planet.
To delete cyberbullying and all behavior that is exclusive, puts others down, or encourages hate, we simply must use this wonderful convenience and technology in ways that are helpful rather than hurtful.
When we refuse to respond to hate with hate, we demonstrate that the only real step towards kindness we need to take is to replace meanness with positives wherever we can. By standing up for what is right, just, and inclusive of all, we communicate to our youth that we care and that we are working to ensure they have a bright future.
Let’s become a community of Internet kindness by actively reaching out with positive commentary and removing negativity wherever we can.
Let’s replace cyberbullying with cyberbolstering.
Let’s do it now.