Armed with Science Saturday: Keyboard Courage (Part 2)

This is the second in an Armed with Science two-part series about cyber bullying.  Read the first part here.

Graphic: Keyboard Courage (Defense Department graphic illustration by Jessica Tozer)

The trolling cyber bully is sort of like an eternal, inescapable antagonizer.

Internet access is practically a swipe and a tap away these days.  That is great and super convenient for a lot of things, but when that accessibility is being exploited, it can lead to disaster.

“This kind of bullying, it cuts to the core of a kid and decimates them.”Dr. Mark Fisher, Chief of Behavioral Pediatrics at the Military Mental Health Clinic, Fort Meade, MD

Here are a few things kids and parents can do to help deal with, or even prevent, cyber bullying

1. KNOW THIS STUFF.  You cannot deal with a problem you do not understand.

Dr. Fisher says that if you don’t know where to go to learn, find someone who already uses this stuff: a kid down the street, a nephew or niece, someone who knows the ropes.  Have them show you where to go and what to do. Learn about the environment your child is being bullied in.

“I don’t care if you have to make yourself a reference dictionary, do it.  Know what BFF and LOL mean,” he says.  “Know what you’re doing.  Don’t feign ignorance.”

2. SAFETY FIRST.  You know the phrase “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me”?  Yeah.  I hate that phrase.  Mostly because it’s not true.  Words are powerful.  They can be forces for change, or weapons for destruction.  Words should be treated carefully.  People can be very negatively affected by words.  The goal here is to intervene when you know things are taking a turn for the bad.  Don’t wait until they turn for the worse.

“You have to be able to define the level of ‘bad’,” he says.  “Don’t ignore the signs.  Create a plan.  Let them know that someone is listening and someone is going to help them.”

3. TALK ABOUT IT.  Communication is the driving force here in this medium, so it isn’t surprising that it would be an important factor in dealing with this kind of threat.  Talking about what people are talking about can help both you and your child to understand more about what is going on.  You might have to involve the school, Dr. Fisher says, or doctors or professionals,  but that line of communication needs to be open.

Talk to your kids,” Dr. Fisher says.  “Prepare them adequately for things.  Don’t just say, ‘oh have a nice day’.  Let them know that they aren’t alone.  That you’re there for them.  When something happens, be an advocate for your child.  They’re got to know that you’ve got their back.”

4. STOP BYSTANDER APATHY.  “No one stands up for the person being bullied,” he says.  “Some of that is denial, some of that is self-preservation, some of that is social training, some of that is apathy.  Don’t ignore it.”

If bystanders do nothing to stop bullying, online especially, then essentially the bully gets away with it.  Letting that happen is kind of like a form of acceptance, which only leads to more bullying.

  It’s so easy to find a way to entertain yourself by insulting others online.  That’s been going on since the chat forums of Prodigy and beyond.  But that doesn’t make it right.  It can feel good to tear people down.  You might feel clever.  It could give you a sense of confidence.  It can even elevate your social stature.  But at what cost?  Seriously.  Is making a bunch of mean people like you really worth ruining someone’s life?  You’re not a monster.  So don’t act like one.

The bully does what they do because they are insecure.  Because they need to feel that power.  But those are reasons, not excuses.  “Zero tolerance is zero tolerance,” Dr. Fisher says.  “I think cyber bullying is worse than regular bullying.  It’s a contagion.”

One that, hopefully, we can work to combat.

The facts are unfortunately simple.  If you’re going to get online you’re probably going to encounter a cyber bully.  It might be one, it might be many.  They might be strangers.  They might be people you know.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is that you cannot let them troll up your life.  Make you feel awful.  Destroy your self worth, or confidence, or happiness.  Well, I will tell you this right now: Do.  Not.  Let.  Them.  It is not worth it.

Because in truth, the bullies are like moths; they mindlessly bounce around from thing to thing, caring not for the annoying space they inhabit.  There will always be other threads to flame.  Other products to hate.  Other games to disrupt.  Other people to annoy.  The danger is in seeing them as anything other than moths.  Because once you a fear a moth, it makes it a lot harder to swat.

Defend yourself.  Know consequences.  Don’t ignore it.  Work together. Talk about it. Get help.

Thanks to Dr. Mark Fisher for his contributions to this article.

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.

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