Make kindness go viral. Promote positivity. Mind your digital reputation. Report bullies.
That’s the wise way for teens to use social media, says Dr. Sameer Hinduja, a Florida-based researcher, author, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.
He understands personally that cultivating a positive image is just as important as understanding how to respond to bullies.
“I cared so much about what my peers thought about when I was growing up, but I couldn’t do anything about that,” Hinduja says. “And so, what I tried to do is focus on my future, just believing in my heart of hearts that things would get better.
“All that silly stuff that matters in high school didn’t matter. I want kids to develop leadership, rather than focus on superficial things.”
Hinduja will be in town this weekend to talk with parents at 7 p.m. Jan. 9 at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel. At the free event, which is open to the public, he’ll discuss the unwise use of social media by kids and how to handle cyberbullying, with a special emphasis on ways for adults to help.
“I have a very pro-technology message,” he says. Technology, he tells kids, “is here to stay and they should embrace it and learn how to use it.”
Kids need to develop mature judgment about how to present themselves online, and how to respond to others – especially those who make poor choices.
“It isn’t the device that is the problem. It’s how can we raise decent human beings who are marked by self-control and resilience,” Hinduja says. “It shouldn’t be from the number of ‘likes’ they get.”
No matter how prepared a student is to use social media, chances are many will encounter bullying, as a victim or a witness. About one out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.
Kids should know how to respond if it happens to them or to a classmate. That means stepping up for peers, Hinduja says, especially because students targeted may be emotionally vulnerable.
“Many kids feel stuck when this happens. They feel paralyzed,” says Hinduja, a professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. ‘We want them to block. We want them to report. We want them to save the evidence. Many times, the aggressor is from school. We want kids to understand what is being said or posted and you can’t control it. It happens to celebrities, too. They can develop certain skills of resilience by recognizing these things.”
Some states have laws directed specifically at cyberbullying. In 2015, The Pennsylvania Legislature made cyber harassment of a child a third-degree misdemeanor.
Chad Green, the dean of student and residential life, arranged for Hinduja’s visit as part of a periodic health and wellness series at Shady Side Academy. Cyberbullying is not a widespread problem at Shady Side, he says, but the school wants to help students develop sound judgment.
“Most of what happens tends to be exclusion from things, but there is a whole realm we are not privy to as adults, in social media, and sometimes that bleeds out in school and sometimes we as adults are the last to know,” Green says.
The key is to get in front of any possible problems by teaching students how to reach out if they are victimized, or hear of someone who is affected, Green says.
One way for kids to be proactive, Hinduja suggest, is to consider posting positive information about themselves. For example, setting up a LinkedIn profile, with information about activities, such as soccer, volunteer roles, and academics.
“Feed the internet with quality content about yourself,” Hinduja says. “Be intentional about it.”
Cyberbullying dos and don’ts
Most social media platforms have ways to report abusive comments, and consequences for violating terms-of-use policies. You can report through the sites directly or check the Cyberbullying Research Center’s list. In addition, know your school’s policy for harassment and bullying. These tips come from the Cyberbullying Research Center:
- Do talk to someone if you’re the victim – online or in person. Seek help from an adult or close friend.
- Don’t respond to the instigator if it appears to be an isolated “mean” comment. If it continues, respectfully ask the person to stop.
- Don’t try to get even.
- Do save evidence of all the comments, via screenshots, and printed hard copies.
- Do block access to anyone who bullies.
- Do report any harassment to the social media site on which it’s posted.
- Do call police if you feel threatened.