Recently, I joined this moms’ group online. Actually, let me clarify, I got added to a moms’ group online. I did not request to join this group and suddenly found myself thrust into the middle of a bizarre, artificially-created world of mean girls – style drama and petty complaints.
I had been a “lurker” for a few weeks, trying to get the lay of the land, watching gossipy posts and comments fly back and forth about sexual fantasies, ranting about husbands and partners and what seemed to me to be a lot of complaining. The posts of late centered all around makeup, makeup, makeup. Wanting to participate, I asked a seemingly innocuous question. Being the crunchy mama that I am, I asked if anyone (else) was concerned about toxic chemicals in their cosmetics or household products. My post ignited a firestorm of controversy that lasted HOURS.
I did catch a break from the notifications while at a work meeting, but that did not stop the catty comments from coming. They joked with each other in a morbid and grotesque way that they were all going to die but that they were going to “look good” while doing it. One mom even posted a meme that said at “my funeral, please make sure my corpse has winged eyeliner on.”
I tried my best not to comment back and/or respond, in the hope that the thread would just DIE. However, with every new “like” or “comment” it lived and grew legs. It gave more and more people an opportunity to throw in their two cents. After several hours and a mom posting asking if they had scared me off, I finally felt like I had suffered enough abuse. I got the brainstorm to turn the commenting feature OFF. I had just been trying to find and connect with other likeminded moms and instead felt like I became the common target against which these moms seemingly rallied.
Granted, there are hundreds of women in the group and these comments were made by maybe a couple of dozen moms, but it did not feel very warm and welcoming. I contemplated deleting my post entirely as well as removing myself from the group. After all, who needs “friends” like that anyways!? But I decided to stay and keep the thread up, at least for now. I would not succumb to their bullying; however, I would be lying if I told you it didn’t bother me. On top of that, I also feared retaliation that I might get booted by the admin anyway for causing a ruckus. While I didn’t think being removed from the group would be so bad in reality, nobody wants to feel like they failed and got rejected—even by a group of strangers online.
Through this experience, my heart immediately went out to all of the people– especially the young ones– who have experienced similar situations. I thought of the girl, maybe in sixth grade, with a phone, wanting to fit in, have friends and be a part of a group. How easily and quickly an online communication can deteriorate and get out of hand. Is she equipped to face and deal with attacks against her integrity and her character? Does she have strong enough self-esteem and a strong enough sense of self to stand in her own power and face her detractors? Does she have knowledgeable, supportive adults in her life to help guide her through tumultuous times? I certainly hope so. I have nothing but compassion for the hurt and heartache she might experience at such a tender age.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, our Self-Esteem & Social Media class (for parents and kids ages 10-12) is a great place to start the conversation. It lays a strong foundation and opens the door to continuing future conversations. We begin by discussing self-esteem– What is it? What does having a positive self-esteem look like? Why is that important? – and brainstorming strategies on how to maintain positive self-esteem in the face of everyday stressors. We continue by talking all about social media– What is it? How is communication different today from when the parents were their kids’ age? How do we use social media most appropriately?– and we bring to light some potential pitfalls to be aware of as well as how to avoid or address them, should they come up. We do this while engaging their critical thinking skills in order to encourage good decision making both now and in the years to come. There are written agreements for both parents and kids to review and sign. We also talk about peer pressure throughout the class since it relates to both topics. As kids head into those critical middle school years, arming them with this information is crucial to help ease the transition for both parents and kids alike.
The anonymity of the Internet and social media has given bullies a platform and has empowered them to say and do things they would be much less likely to ever do or say in real life, person-to-person, face-to-face. Although, maybe some still would, I am sure it allows and encourages more who might not. Maybe this is reason #3,842 not to participate on social media , and/or to strongly monitor your kids’ online activities. More importantly, this experience has shined a spotlight on what is really important and what truly matters. Talking with and teaching kids about people and relationships and the real world. Helping them to understand and gain perspective about their experiences – both on and offline – and putting things in context. WE are the grownups around here. It is up to us to model appropriate behavior for our kids and, by setting a good example, show them how to conduct themselves in any and all situations with dignity, grace, and respect.