Eight tips for dealing with online negativity
By Annie Mullins OBE, Director of Safety and Trust, EU, ASKfm
Negative behaviour isn’t exclusive to social media. It’s in the playground, in the corridors of their schools and on their walks home. With today’s teens always being connected, the negative and some times hurtful interactions that used to be confined to the school day can follow them home and are with them wherever they are. But there are ways for teens to manage these interactions. Most negativity online is related to issues and disputes arising at school amongst their peers, and may resolve quite quickly, so it’s important not to escalate them further online.
Young people – as digitally savvy as they are – still need the support and advice of their parents when they are having difficulties. They will appreciate you talking with them about these difficulties, and helping them to develop coping strategies. This will go a long way to relieving any stress they have, and helps them develop a thoughtful and calm response to negative comments.
Listen and reassure your child
It is important to start talking to your children and teens as early as possible about their digital lives, such as what they’re doing and what they enjoy on an every day basis. This builds a bridge for them to turn to you should they have difficulties.
Hurtful or angry posts may happen if the person they’re talking to online is having a bad day, or is annoyed for some reason. This isn’t uncommon among teens, and should be treated differently from an on-going campaign of abuse and harassment.
Ask them how they feel and what they’d like to do to sort out the situation? Follow their solutions rather than trying to resolve it yourself. It’s important they feel comfortable with any action you may take. And most importantly don’t remove their phone, or laptop as they shouldn’t be punished for being bullied or others being unkind.
Reassure your child that they did the right thing in coming forward; sometimes their imaginations can run away with themselves which can hold them back in seeking help.
Don’t respond in anger
It’s important for teens to not react impulsively or retaliate to negative communications or bullying, as this can make things worse. But to think about ignoring it, and take time to respond is to allow the initial, and understandable, feelings of anger, outrage and upset to shift to a calmer state of mind.
Step away from the screen
Seeing negative comments and posts can have an emotional impact. All too often teens spend too long dwelling on those comments, and can respond without taking the time to really digest the comments before they take action.
It is important that teens understand they don’t have to respond instantly. They need to take some time to cool off, regroup and gather their thoughts before responding, if at all, as they don’t want to become a cyber bully themselves.
Block the bully
Most social networks allow you to block people from seeing your posts (details on how to do this can be found in the platforms safety centre, along with other tools) and commenting on your pages.
Ensure your child is aware of how to block the person online who is bullying them on all social media and gaming sites or Apps they are using.
Ask your child to re-examine who can see their information. Social media sites most often allow you to choose who can see the information you share and set limits. Encourage them to only have friends they actually know and trust to have access to their information.
A teenager may not want to block specific people, because they want to know what they’re up to. They want to stay in the loop. But blocking individuals is something worth considering if that person causes the teen anxiety or continues to treat them in a negative manner. They don’t need to keep them on their friends list.
Keep a record
Take screenshots for evidence of bullying if the situation is not resolved easily and escalates, and then have your child delete the hurtful comments so they are not constantly reminded of them.
Report the behaviour to the social network
Users are the best judge of what is upsetting to them, so it is important they report communications intend to hurt or bully them. Staying silent about bullying only ensures that the bullies continue acting inappropriately, sometimes with no consequences for their harmful actions. Most social networks use anonymous reporting, so the person being reported won’t know who highlighted their behaviour.
If the bullying is related to school, make sure they know what has been happening as the bullying very likely is also happening off-line. Under the UK Education and Inspections Act, Head Teachers can discipline students for poor behaviour even if the bullying has happened outside the school premises.
Make sure you know your schools’ anti-bullying policy.
Stick close to those who like you for who you are
It’s important for teens to be accepted and liked by their peers, and sometimes this can mean they focus too hard on being popular with everyone and may find it difficult when others dislike them – it’s part of growing up.
Support your child in building positive friendships that support them and where they don’t have to prove themselves. If they have others around them who are negative towards them it can quickly bring them down and undermine their confidence. So get them to think about who they like and why? What do they have in common and do they share the same values? Can they really be friends with everyone? And how do they stay positive?
Be a source of support for others
Anyone who has ever been bullied, knows how isolating it can be. Encouraging teenagers to show support to others being bullied and standing up to the bully on their behalf is really important. The person being bullied needs to know that others understand what they are going through and that there are people there to talk to.
These days, teens may be digital know-alls, but they often still may lack the skills, experience and sometimes confidence, to navigate social issues. Social media, for the most part, is about engaging and sharing with friends, getting involved in conversations, and discovering and learning about the world around them. But when negativity arises online, just as it does offline, teens need to know how to handle it.
As parents, preventing teens from encountering negative comments is almost impossible, but we can provide them with the tools to carry themselves with confidence online and in turn act responsibly and look out for others.