Rebecca Black was only thirteen years old when her music video, “Friday,” went viral. A deluge of scorn and mockery followed. Six years later, she opened up about her experience in an essay on NBC: “What I Learned from Being a Target of Internet Hate at Age 13.”
As parents, when we read about cyberbullying, our first impulse is to protect our children, to keep them from becoming targets. While understandable, this knee-jerk reaction is unhelpful, because our first impulse should be to prevent our children from becoming bullies.
Surely not our children, though. Never ours! And yet, as Ms. Black points out in her essay, “It is increasingly obvious to me that every single one of us is experiencing pain, and trying to deal with it in one way or another.” No matter how privileged or pampered our children may seem, each one has disappointments and hurts he or she is trying to emotionally metabolize. When we don’t properly handle emotional pain, we can’t contain it, and we end up weaponizing our pain and hurting others. Ms. Black calls this cycle “the chain of pain.”
When the internet became accessible to all, suddenly all hurting individuals, all of us, gained an outlet. We could rant and rave, mock and threaten, all from the safety and anonymity of our computers. We could tear another person to shreds without ever seeing his face. In a few short decades, the chain of pain has become infinitely broader. Research shows that cyberbullying is more destructive than face to face bullying because the victims can never escape. They open their laptops and find hate. They turn on their phones and are told they are worthless. Is it any wonder teen and tween suicides frequently appear in the headlines?
Obviously, we should all keep careful tabs on our children’s digital communications– read texts, follow social media profiles, and periodically check private messages. However, this is the not enough. We must teach our children to end the cycle– to break down and digest hurt, disappointment, and rejection instead of passing it on. Rather than insisting “My child would never,” we need to make sure our children have healthy outlets and coping mechanisms for stress and disappointment. We also need to teach them to intervene if they ever witness or learn of online or offline bullying.
It was easy to make fun of Rebecca Black’s music video. The lyrics were uninspired, the singing heavily autotuned. We all forgot on the other side of the screen there was a thirteen year old girl with a dream. She didn’t deserve our unkindness, and neither does any other victim of cyberbullying.
To read Rebecca Black’s essay, titled “What I Learned from Being a Target of Internet Hate at Age 13,” click here.
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