Trolling: Where is the line between bullying and banter?
1 expert and 1 parent have answered
I think it's true that cyberbullying can be more serious and more hurtful than face to face bullying. Kids do need to learn to be responsible in general, but especially in the truly "pervasive and public" online environment. Parents can help by monitoring what their children are doing online, and keeping up an open dialogue about how they are experiencing what they see. However, it is unfortunately true that there are parents who are not paying attention, and kids who are not playing by the same rules.
Cyberbullying can be especially dangerous because the person experiencing it can be caught off guard and literally alone. When kids don't have a healthy context to figure out why people do what they do, they tend to make up their own explanations - often in an unbalanced and unhealthy way. The extroverted might become angry and attack, the introverted may turn the attack on themselves.
I think it is important that our young people are taught the life skills to face criticism, failure, frustration, and limits without collapsing or attacking. This seems to be the real root of the issue of cyberbullying, bullying in general, and its traumatic after effects.
To answer the primary question, where to draw the line between banter and bullying. I tell kids that they should (and probably do) know how their comments or actions are going to effect someone else before they do it. If they are in the habit of kidding around on the edge of being hurtful, asking the target of the joke whether they mind or not is a good place to start. If they don't, or if they tend to play along, it is probably just fine. Some kids don't enjoy this kind of attention, take it personally, or see the harm caused as intentional. This is when it crosses the line. The recipient of the banter decides whether or not it is hurtful or appropriate.
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When Olympic diver Tom Daley became a target of trolling on Twitter, his thousands of followers condemned the bully and supported the Team GB hopeful – but what happens when we don’t have armies of supporters online? Cyber bullying should be taken just as seriously as in real life.
In fact the NSPCC believes online teasing can feel more threatening than real life jibes because digital technology is both pervasive and public. The difference in the virtual world is the lack of context. Playground interactions include facial expressions and personal space, so cases of bullying are much clearer than online.
Children need to be well versed in the settings of their social networks – they should know how to pull posts, block users and report abuse – and parents have to be equally well-informed.
When it comes to Facebook in our house, there are two rules. We have to know our children’s passwords and we have to be their friends online. We still keep a respectable distance, though: we don’t comment on our children’s posts, a ‘That’s nice, dear…’ on their statuses would be mortifying.
Our children need to learn to become responsible digital citizens on their own. Give them credit though, sometimes they already know best: according to my 12-year-old boy, ‘You should be able to block communication with any bully.’ And if you can’t? ‘There should be a way of deleting their messages without reading them.’
My 10-year-old daughter adds: ‘You should tell your parents their username on the computer and they can contact the website who can get them deleted.’ Wise words.