MythBusters: A Safe Space on the Internet

I know that parents and guardians will always want to protect their children from harm’s way. I know that it can be so tempting to just shelter people away from all of the bad things in the world. Unfortunately, I think this does more harm than good.

Growing up, my school principles would always try to give presentations about being safe online. But when you’re around the age of 13–17 years old, adults telling you to watch what you say online doesn’t really resonate with you. People who aren’t active users of social media don’t really know how to advise people on how to handle online harassment or bullying.

I think the reason I feel this way is because every time an adult has tried to advise the population of the youth, at least in my experience, they pretty much tell you to shy away from social media as much as possible. Almost as if Facebook and Twitter are these unholy lands that we should be afraid of. That if we make an Instagram account, we’re sure to get bullied. And that’s just not true. I find this kind of advice to be pretty harmful, to be quite honest. It creates this kind of distance between kids and adults when it comes to the online world. Kids that are being bullied online won’t want to tell their parents, because there’s a solid chance their parents will tell them to not use these social media accounts. And then there’s this constant anxiety over what you’re missing out on online, which is almost just as bad.

I know that not all adults are like this. I guess even I’m considered an adult these days… yikes. This is just what I experienced growing up. I think that before teachers, parents, or guardians try to step in, they should really focus on learning the benefits of social media. Our generation actually has a huge advantage when it comes to this, because we’ve essentially gone through it all. We’ve grown with these social media sites, we’ve learned how to navigate them, and we’ve learned how to handle all the negative side effects that can come from it. I mean, sort of.

The truth is, people are going to get bullied, social media or not. Yeah it sucks, but so do people. People picking on other people is not a new concept. When bullying happens in the real world, you don’t tell people to stop going outside so that nobody will be mean to them. But somehow when bullying happens in the online world, it’s like we want to solve the problem by just never going online again. This doesn’t work. It never has, and it never will.

Of course, parents and guardians should be involved in what their kids are doing online. You can’t control what happens, but you can be there for them if bad things happen. That’s all we can really do. And maybe, just maybe, we should be telling people to stop being jerks online. I think that idea could really get us somewhere.

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