People can be lovely, supportive, connected but occasionally someone can be vile or abusive. Or just plain horrid.
This bullying can take many forms. It can actually creep on you unexpectedly. How do I know this? Well, it recently happened to a close member of my family and it took me some days to realise what was happening…
When a member of my family changed schools recently, he left behind some friends that well, let’s just say, were best left behind. He had had some issues with one or two before and, although sorted out, it was no bad thing to have left those individuals behind.
Unlike when I was a child though, these days youngsters can keep in touch in a way they couldn’t before. That means keeping in touch with friends who have gone elsewhere to school. And those children know other children. I think you might be getting my drift here.
This family member mentioned to me that through Skype, he was keeping in touch with friends.
Through those friends, other so-called friends were also making contact.
For a while that worked okay. Then those other ‘friends’ (and I use the words advisedly) started sniping at him. Firstly it was criticising his ‘text speak’ suggesting that he should know how to spell properly. Then it was appearing to send a message and then deleting it. No swearing, nothing obvious, in fact really petty. Initially it was treated as such.
After a period of time, Skype turned to texts. Texts turned to at least one swear word that I’m aware of. Texts turned to sniping remarks. Trying to make him feel small and stupid. Again, really petty stuff.
But it suddenly occurred to me that I was viewing this as an adult in my 40s, not as a child would view it. For a child, this is serious stuff. This means that this petty person could be influencing people who really matter, friends who really matter to that child. He was fearful of losing true friends as a result of this means of being sniping and petty and needling. This was beginning to hurt.
Even when I argued that true friends would not be influenced, it cut no ice.
Again, I realised that it’s much easier for an adult – and a journalist at that – to brush off such criticism, such personal sniping. It’s not easy for a child.
I also realised that if the recipient of petty comments is hurt by them – that’s bullying. It also becomes firmly rooted when the person doesn’t stop when the child tells them to stop. The only reason this didn’t spill over into Facebook is that this family member doesn’t have a profile on that social media site. He’s too young and not allowed.
This was a lesson learned for me as an adult and, hopefully, for him as a child. As a family we’ve now discussed it. Cyber-bullying may not be blatantly obvious but the effects can be upsetting and it can happen over a very short period.
When a final text arrived accusing my family member of something trivial, I replied, warning that individual to leave him alone or I would be paying a visit to parents. I know where this person lives.
Since then no texts, no contact, to my knowledge. I hope the warning was enough.
But from now on, I’m much more aware of my family member’s interaction over the internet and texts. It’s worth remembering that it’s not just the obvious risks, but other, seemingly ridiculous, nonsense can creep up on a family unawares.