How many times have you rolled your eyes when your parents started a rant with “when I was growing up, we never….”?
And how old did you feel the first time you uttered those very same words, and not in a sarcastic way?
Usually, those stories are tales of how much harder they had it, how much more respect we had for our elders, and how much more discpline we all seemed to be subjected to.
But these days, I genuinely think we did have it better than kids “these days”.
Sure, we didn’t have access to truckloads of information, an ability to speak to people from all around the world in real time (remember pen pals and having to wait weeks for letters?), choices galore (yes, there was a time when we only had 4 TV channels to choose from) and of course, we often had to entertain ourselves, spending vast stretches of time in our own company.
But when we left school for the day, we could really only speak to one friend at a time, over our home telephone – where we were sure to have our parents yelling at us after 10 minutes to get off the phone and do some homework, or get outside and play, or practise the piano.
These days, kids (and by kids, I’m referring affectionately to any one under the age of 18) are never far from their friends. Even after they’ve left school, they’re in contact with their mates via mobile and facebook, and probably a host of other social networking sites that I’ve never heard of.
And unfortunately, being surrounded by their friends all the time means they are also completely accessible to those that aren’t really friends, and who don’t have their best interests at heart. Kids are completely exposed, at all times of the day, to the sometimes harmless, sometimes harmful remarks of others.
Being taunted for asking a classmate out and being rejected, for not wearing the right shoes, for talking to the wrong person – all of these perceived infractions don’t stop in the playground. They end up on text messages, facebook walls, messenger statuses.
It seems there has been a prolific rise in cyber bullying. Comments and taunts that kids make, not always understanding the full impact of, can hurt those they are directed at so deeply, and so relentlessly without relief, that they can often drive the victims to rash actions.
Self loathing and damaged self esteem are probably, sadly, the least we can expect the victims to suffer. And in more extreme cases, self harm is a real issue.
But how do we get kids to be less like kids? How can we encourage them not to treat others as they wouldn’t want to be treated themselves, and how to avoid putting themselves at risk? Can we realistically ban access to those tools which make cyber bullying possible? By trying to protect our loved ones, wouldn’t we then be responsible for putting them on the outer straight away, not allowing them to do what the other kids do?
It’s a tough time to be a kid, and to be a parent. Unfortunately there are no easy answers. But being aware of the existence and effects of cyber bullying is a step in the right direction – if we can support those we love, and teach respect for others to our kids, we’re one step closer to making things easier for everyone.
Image courtesy of stock.xchng