Bullying has long been one of the biggest challenges facing youth online. Sadly, in some cases we see it faced by adults as well. The fact that this has persisted does not make it something we should ever get used to or ignore, especially if that digital harassment is actually closer to hate speech and any resulting actions or behaviors because of that hate.

Over the last year, with so many people spending far more time online, there has been an increase in negative interactions, such as the rise in anti-Asian hate. Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian hate during the pandemic, received nearly 3,800 reports of harassment, assault and acts of discrimination against Asian Americans from March 2020 to February 2021.

Online hate and harassment aren’t unique to the Asian population. As detailed in this recent article by CNet“For many years, social media users who identify as Black, Jewish, transgender or as part of other marginalized groups have also complained that Facebook and Twitter aren’t doing enough to stamp out hate speech, despite having rules against that type of behavior. But the coronavirus pandemic has meant that Asian Americans are dealing with racist comments more often than they have in the past.”

With this blatant online vitriol so clearly in view, parents are nervous about what their kids are seeing, hearing, experiencing – and even saying. How do we help our kids respond if they are subjected to bullying or hate? Or how do we guide them to be allies to others who are? To answer these tough questions, we invited Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin Patchin from the Cyberbullying Research Center to episode #19 of our webinar series to speak with us about hate and bullying; what they truly mean, how they impact us, and how to deal with them. They also discuss and share tips and advice on how to build resilience in kids who may experience this.

Although this episode focused on a wide variety of topics, a few key takeaways worth calling out include:

  • Bullying & hate are both harmful, but not the same thing. Although they can be lumped together and often experienced together, it’s important to know the difference between the two. Traditional school-based bullying is any language or behavior that is hurtful on purpose and based on an abuse of some form of power (verbal, physical size, popularity, wealth, intelligence, among other factors). Hate speech or behavior is targeted towards a specific person or group of people based on your race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
  • Hate speech is surprisingly, not a crime. Despite what most of us in our society may think or believe, hate speech is not illegal or a crime. Hate actions and behaviors are. That is why there is such a correlation between bullying and hate in both the physical and digital worlds.
  • Teachable moments can help curb poor behaviors. In a group or school setting, kids will often say things to one another that they do not truly understand. They have heard words or phrases on TV, from family, from passing adults or based on something previously said to them. Just because kids use a term or phrase does not mean they always understand what they are saying or the consequences of saying it. It is up to parents and teachers to address these conversations and interactions immediately to teach kids the meanings of their words and actions so they don’t repeat them in the future.
  • School yards are not the only homes to bullies. It’s in the workplace, too. Although there is more research and data on schoolyard incidents and digital bullying among kids, there is a growing interest in the topic of digital bullying among adults as well. Although we may be aware of digital trolls that spread negativity on certain social media apps, it is important to know it is not contained to just those interactions. Dr. Hinduja and Dr. Patchin noted an increase in corporate HR teams seeking information and help in addressing workplace bullying, especially if it involves issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Resilience is a skill. To protect our kids from bullying or hate, we can certainly help prevent their exposure to such behaviors by using tools like safety or privacy settings, or just being more deliberate about what apps they can use. We can also encourage kids to connect with those who lift others up and not tear them down.  It’s equally if not more important to constantly have conversations with your children about their experiences.  Making it a constant part of family conversation will give you a better window, and an opportunity to know early if they have witnessed or experienced bullying or hate of any kind online.  If they have, you can help them build resilience by always letting them know they have your support and by helping them reframe what has happened.  Help them think about the action but encourage them to make a choice about how they respond.  They can block, report, ignore the bully.  You can also discuss the possibility that the bully may be in some kind of pain or trouble, and is simply acting out.  Focus on what your child does have control over (their own actions) and support them in those choices.
  • We can all be allies. We can encourage our kids to be good allies to those who may be experiencing bullying or hate by guiding them to seeking the help of an authority figure (parent/guardian, teacher) and discuss what they have seen. This is more helpful than just filming or documenting what is happening with their phones.  Checking in on the individual target of the bullying to see how they are feeling/processing the incident is also a great act of allyship.  One of the best things we can do for our kids is to show them by our own example.

As schools begin opening up again after months of remote learning, you may have apprehensions that all this digital discord will follow students to school.  But the return to school is for many a return to services and resources they had lost access to during the pandemic.  Teachers, counselors and friends will be more available to help students cope with any challenges they may face, as long as we have done the groundwork and provided our kids with the basic skills to recognize, take action, and stand up to bullying or hate.

For more from Dr. Hinduja and Dr. Patchin, list to the full conversation here.  And take a look at our tips for handling online bullying as well as tips for safe and healthy social media use.

If you are interested in learning more on this topic some additional resources include:

For past episodes or more information about our webinar series, visit our Internet Safety Webinars.

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens

Lynette Owens is Vice President of Global Consumer Education & Marketing at Trend Micro and Founder of the Internet Safety for Kids and Families program. With 25+ years in the tech industry, Lynette speaks and blogs regularly on how to help kids become great digital citizens. She works with communities and 1:1 school districts across the U.S. and around the world to support online safety, digital and media literacy and digital citizenship education. She is a board member of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, an advisory committee member of the Digital Wellness Lab, and serves on the advisory boards of INHOPE and U.S. Safer Internet Day.

Follow her on Twitter @lynettetowens.