Fifteen percent of teens have personally experienced online harassment in the past 12 months according to a survey done by Covenant Eyes through their free eBook titled A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can occur on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and ask.fm. In fact, ask.fm has recently been in the news quite frequently for some cyberbullying instances. Recently, buzz feed wrote an article on September 11 of this year recording nine teenage suicides that have happened in the last year, all of the ones recorded were linked to ask.fm. One of the reasons it is so easy to become a cyberbully on ask.fm is because you can ask really mean and disturbing questions anonymously. You can be as mean as you possibly want to be while hiding behind a computer screen. It is noted that four out of 10 students will drop out of high school each year because they cannot handle the bullying that takes place. Bullying needs to stop!
I am a student pastor, so I come across bullying in youth group occasionally. I come across students who are bullied, and I come across students who act as the bullies. I want to share a few thoughts that can help from all different perspectives to prevent bullying in person or online:
- Parents must monitor their students online—Parents, if your student has an online account, you should have access to the account. This could prevent your teenager from being involved in the bullying, and it could prevent your teenager being bullied as well. It also prevents a wealth of other things. We live in a day where teens desire freedom online. They feel like parents monitoring them takes away their freedom. The problem is that, as teens, they are called to be submissive to their parents. A good relationship with your teenager through effective monitoring of their social sites can help prevent and fight against the bullying that takes place.
- Teach teenagers that bullying is wrong—Bullying is a sin. It is against the direct command of God in Ephesians 4:29 when Paul challenges the church to not allow corrupt communication to come out of our mouths. The only thing that should come out of our mouths are words that build up and encourage others. In youth ministry, we as youth pastors must regularly teach students that bullying is wrong.
- Encourage your student leaders to step up—If you have a strong group of core student leaders, you need to encourage them to step up and stop bullying altogether. They have the power and influence to do so and, in most ways, do it more effectively than we can as adults. Put pressure on them to call out the bullies online and in person.
- Create an “everyone’s welcome” type of culture—This is for your family, your youth group or your school. Wherever you are, create this culture. We must get past the racial profiles, the social status profiles or the financial profiles, and realize that the ground is level when we come to Jesus! There is not one group that Jesus welcomes more than another, and we should not welcome one group more than another. Parents, create this culture at your house. Do not allow your teenager to make fun of other teenagers in your presence at home. If they do it at home, they probably will do it out of your home as well. Youth pastor, do not allow this to happen in your youth group either.
- Teach teens how to effectively use social media—Social media is an excellent tool that is fun. It can be extremely dangerous, though, when given to someone who does not know how to effectively use it. Sometimes, we fail to see the negative side of something that seems innocent, and we give all the freedom in the world to someone who has never been taught how to use the seemingly innocent tool. Parents, regularly teach your students how to effectively use social media. Teach them that there are spiritual and earthly consequences for mistakes made on their social accounts. Teach them to stay out of online drama. Teach them principles such as “think before you post” or “if you would not say it to someone’s face, do not write it online.” These are the principles that we must be driving home to our teens. Teach them that anonymous letters and posts are cowardly. When we are failing to teach our students how to handle online sites, we as parents and leaders are part of the problem.