In many cases, it can be difficult for teens to visualize that there are, indeed, real people who are receiving their comments out there in cyberspace. Teens are often so caught up in their own lives that they still have a difficult time putting themselves in another person’s shoes. In addition, teenagers are just beginning to really discover what type of person they are and solidifying their beliefs.
There have been numerous studies, as well as high profile incidents, that have shown the cruelty that teenagers are capable of toward other people. In many cases, the teens expressed surprise that the people who were the targets of this cruelty were hurt or scared as the result of their treatment. Clearly, teens are not understanding the power of their own words and actions. There are a few things that you can do to help teens internalize these effects.
Make it personal. When talking to teens about the power of their words and actions, ask them to think before they speak. Would they say the same thing to their best friend that they are getting ready to post online? How about treating a beloved pet in that manner? Or would they be comfortable speaking to their favorite family members in the same way?
Discuss face time. Before posting that next email blasting a class mate for some reason, ask your teen if they would say the same thing to that person if the two of them were face to face. Would they use a kinder tone or, frame the words in a different way, in order to avoid being so abrasive and hurting the other person’s feelings?
Talk to your friends. Encourage your teens to talk with their friends but not in a way that is meant to isolate other people. Instead, challenge them to brainstorm ways of dealing with the other people in their lives that irritate them. They can, for example, decide that the other person is not worth your teenager’s time and effort.
Counseling is an option. If your teen is having a difficult time with treating other people with respect and without hurting them emotionally, counseling could be in order. Counseling will give teens the tools they need to cope with their feelings of anger toward other people. It will also help them to find other ways of dealing with the stresses of every day life without lashing out at other people.