by Lisa Currie, ripplekindness.org
I thought I was in a safe environment.
A group on facebook where people from around the world gathered to exchange information and tips on a range of topics. I understood it to be a forum where I could ask questions and people would offer solutions and support without judgement.
When a subject I was interested in was posted, I joined the conversation. Being in a different time zone, most of the others were sleeping then, so I didn’t check the forum again until the next day.
A lot happened on the other side of the globe during the night, and I woke to find I was the subject of abuse and condemnation. As I read the responses, I was shocked that such an innocent question had triggered angry and targeted outbursts by a few of the women.
I’d like to say that it didn’t affect me. As an adult I should have been able to brush it off, but how could I when the insults had followed me to my community page as well. I felt embarrassed, hurt and physically ill.
Being new to the group, I was left reeling. Stunned, miserable, and completely deflated, my entire agenda for the day had gone out the window. I struggled to get a handle on my emotions and understand what had happened. I didn’t think I’d said anything that should have triggered such a public attack.
My First Response
My first reaction was to leave the group, but there was a part of me that felt that wasn’t the answer. I felt like a victim as the reality of my first cyberbullying experience started to sink in. Then it occurred to me that these women must have been victims too.
Drawing on the work I do with school children, I thought about the bullies whose hearts I help to soften by teaching them how to be kind. I thought about the way most people respond to bullies with anger and hatred. There’s usually no consideration or empathy for the hardships a bully has endured. Few are able to imagine what someone’s may have been through to become so bitter and angry that they want to belittle others.
When I applied this to these women, I felt a softening and wondered what they had been through to respond that way. The whole experience got me thinking about other victims of bullying. Many children and adult endure much worse than I had, relentlessly tormented every day.In days gone by, it was bullying in the schoolyard that kids could shut the door on when they went home. What makes it worse now is that bullying is now longer confined and it’s claiming lives!
Modern bullying is in your face. The advent of the internet and mobile phones means bullies are everywhere. With you in your pocket, your home and your bedroom… there’s just no escape!
Too many children have become statistics. Often unsupported because they’re uncomfortable talking about it. Sometimes they’re ashamed or feel that they’ll disappoint their parents if they tell. My own son begged me not to tell the teachers about a time when he was being bullied because he feared it would get worse!
It makes me feel sick knowing this is a reality for so many kids and their families. How do they cope, go to school and where’s the joy in their life if that’s what they’ve got to deal with every day When I looked up the latest statistics on cyberbullying, I was horrified to find that McAfee reported an increase.
“Despite significant efforts to discourage cyberbullying and its negative effects, the number of occurrences continues to grow with 87% of youth having witnessed cyberbullying. Of those who responded they were cyberbullied, 72% responded it was due to appearance while 26% answered due to race or religion and 22% stated their sexuality was the driving factor. Of those who witnessed cyberbullying, 53% responded the victims became defensive or angry, while 47% said the victims deleted their social media accounts, underscoring its significant emotional impact. While the study reveals cyberbullying continues to represent a serious problem for youth, the 2014 survey found 24% of youth would not know what to do if they were harassed or bullied online.”
My own experience and the horrifying data makes me fear for the future and how many more innocent lives will be damaged or destroyed. It makes me more determined than ever to do my part in changing the way kids interact. It’s gone on long enough and I don’t know how we expect things to change if we don’t change the way we approach the issue.
Our Collective Response
We’re not going to stop bullying overnight, we need an ongoing, long term plan.As past approaches seem to be falling short, we have to change the way we tackle bullying. I’m convinced that we have to confront it with its psychological opposite – kindness. It’s far more effective to teach children the positive behaviour that will help them understand what it means to be a good friend.
In-school character education and kindness programs address bullying in a positive way. They also equip students with the social and emotional skills they’ll need all their lives. Kids are suffering–sometimes being pushed to breaking point. It makes me sad and angry to think we really haven’t come very far in this war against bullying, even after investing so much time and money.
Maybe it’s time to stop talking about bullying, and start talking about kindness instead.
Lisa Currie is the founder of Ripple Kindness Project. A community project and whole school curriculum to improve social, emotional and mental health and reduce bullying.The positive psychology curriculum teaches children about their emotions and the impact their words and actions have. Ongoing lessons and activities provide opportunities for students to notice and shown kindness in everyday situations to make altruism a natural and instinctive part of life.; Adapted image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks; Maybe It’s Time To Stop Talking About Bullying, And Talk Kindness Instead