Trolling and cyberbullying may seem like two different words for the same behaviors, but they aren’t exactly the same. Internet trolling involves making argumentative or offensive statements in an effort to get attention and start arguments.
Cyberbullying is more targeted. It’s an attempt to inflict harm on a person or group of persons. Cyberbullies aren’t necessarily looking for attention for themselves – although that can be a part of it – but they are definitely looking to hurt or upset specific people. Trolls usually don’t care who they upset, as long as they can stir up trouble for their own entertainment. Take a look at some of the things you should know about protecting your children from online bullies and trolls.
“Don’t Feed the Trolls”
Ignoring trolls can work, but it’s not the end of the story.
Many online groups have adopted “don’t feed the trolls” as a general rule for handling bad behavior in that space. Just ignore them and they’ll go away. There’s some value to this approach for actual online trolls. Trolls want to cause offense, upset people, start arguments, and watch it all play out. Sometimes, they also want to be in the middle of the melee, fanning the flames of the conflict they started. In short, trolls like attention, and if they don’t get it, they may leave and go look for it elsewhere.
However, completely ignoring the behavior while it continues isn’t always the best option. For one thing, just because everyone understands that the troll is trying to cause offense doesn’t mean that they aren’t succeeding. When a troll is making an online space unwelcoming or unsafe for other people in that space, it doesn’t matter if they’re just doing it for attention – they still need to be stopped.
For another thing, cyberbullying that targets a specific person is often mistaken for trolling, but cyberbullies are less likely to go away if ignored. They will keep following their target and trying to inflict harm, and their behavior may escalate if earlier attempts don’t get results. For the safety of their victims, cyberbullies should also be stopped.
Teaching Kids to Defend Themselves Online
Because trolls and cyberbullies can make online spaces unsafe for others, the advice to just avoid feeding the trolls isn’t enough. Children and teens need to know how to stand up for themselves online.
That doesn’t mean that they should interact with trolls or cyberbullies themselves. That part of not feeding the trolls is good advice. But they can defend themselves and others as well. One way to teach your teens to defend themselves online is to make sure that they know how to report trolls or cyberbullies on the sites that they visit.
It’s a good idea for kids to learn how to take screenshots. Screenshots can be used as evidence of the offensive behavior in the event that the troll or bully deletes their comments in order to avoid being removed or having their posting privileges limited. Teach your child to document evidence by taking screenshots, report the troll or bully, and then to block the troll or bully so they don’t have to see them going forward.
If your teen witnesses bullying but isn’t a victim themselves, they should still document evidence and report the bully. It can also be helpful to reach out to the bully’s target. Your teen doesn’t have to argue with or even acknowledge the bully themselves – just make a supportive and friendly comment to the person being bullied. Sometimes seeing a show of support for the victim can be enough to scare off a bully, at least temporarily.
Sometimes the best way for kids to protect themselves is to take a break from being online.
Sometimes, enough is enough. It’s important to teach your children the value of simply logging off and walking away from the screen when they’re overwhelmed by trolling or bullying online. Whether or not turning the device off has any effect on the trolls and bullies, it will have an effect on your child by reminding them that the world is bigger and better than social media sites and forums.
The more you know about your child’s online activities, the better an idea you’ll have of what they’re dealing with online and the more you’ll be able to help. The right computer monitoring software is desighed for exactly this situation. To find out more about how parental monitoring software can help you learn how to protect your kids online, get our risk free program.