This post is sponsored by Be Internet Awesome
After two hours of playing baseball in the midday sun, I watched my son and his teammates emerge from the dugout with smiles on their faces from their win as sweat beads dripped from underneath the brims of their ball caps. I was folding my chair when the mom who had been keeping the peace in the dugout filed out behind them. I thanked her for her role in the game and she said, “You hear some interesting things in the dugout.” She told me a bunch of the boys were saying “ur mom gay.”
Whether it was directed to the other team, to each other, or being used to test the boundaries as they approach their teen years, it didn’t matter. I was concerned about the teasing context of this homophobic insult being thrown around on the bench and knew I needed to turn this into a teachable moment in our home.
Rather than have the conversation with my tween son as we were driving home from the game, I chose to wait. I’ve found our best conversations always seem to happen when they’re settling into bed for the night. Their tired, relaxed state lends to honest reflection about the day and this evening was no different.
Rather than beating around the bush, I told my son what I had heard from the other mother at the game. In a sheepish voice, he admitted he had been part of the group saying this while on the bench.
There are any number of ways I could have reacted to his admission of guilt because I was disappointed. I’ve worked hard to raise a conscientious caring individual who knows right from wrong. What happened?
I know from my background in psychology and education that tweens and teens push the limits in terms of exploring what is and isn’t ok. But boys will be boys? No. That should never be justification for such bullyish behavior in any situation.
I propped myself up on a pillow so we could see eye to eye. My son knew I was serious even though my voice remained quiet and calm as I asked him if he knew what gay meant. (He did.) We had a conversation about how gay could also mean happy but that it probably didn’t mean happy in the way it was being used by him and his buddies. (He agreed.) Then we talked about how it made him feel knowing he was using words that were so hurtful. (He said uncomfortable.) I asked if he thought this phrase could be a form of bullying. (He did.)
I told him that the next time this happens, he has a choice. I explained how he could be an upstander or a bystander and we talked through some different scenarios and strategies he could use in the future.
Kids of all ages test the boundaries to see what they can get away with. Tweens think it’s cool to emulate what they’re seeing in popular culture and can get sucked in to bad behavior by those around them. It’s also easy for them to hang back and watch things happen without speaking up.
Instead of being uncomfortable with what’s going on around them, it’s important for our kids to know they have the power to change the conversation as upstanders. Empowering our tweens as upstanders encourages them to take the high road and stand up for the things they know in their hearts aren’t ok.
How to Teach Your Tween to Be an Upstander
A conversation about being an upstander versus a bystander is a way to take a negative situation and put some positive learning behind it. Here’s how to have a productive conversation that will lead to some learning, so your child will feel empowered to stand up the next time they hear or see behavior they don’t agree with.
Seize the Teachable Moment
Teachable moments are events or experiences that provide a good opportunity for learning something about a particular aspect of life. These unplanned moments are the best time to have conversations about the hard stuff because there’s an action, behavior, or natural interest that serves as the catalyst for learning. It’s important to seize the moment but also know your child to know when the right moment might be to have this important conversation.
Know the Difference Between a Bystander and Upstander
We know what a bystander is but what’s an upstander? Google’s Be Internet Awesome provides these definitions that are important for tweens to know:
- Bystander: A witness to harassment or bullying who recognizes the situation but chooses not to intervene
- Upstander: A witness to harassment or bullying who supports the target privately or publicly, sometimes including trying to stop and/or report the incident they witnessed
Share How Easy it is to be an Upstander
Be Internet Awesome wants tweens to know they can turn into bystanders from upstanders by doing any of the following things:
- Finding a way to be kind to or support the person being targeted
- Calling out the mean behavior in a comment or reply (remember to call out the behavior, not the person), if you feel comfortable with that and think it’s safe to do so
- Deciding not to help the aggressor by spreading the bullying or making it worse by sharing the mean post or comment online
- Getting a bunch of friends to create a “pile-on of kindness” – post lots of kind comments about the person being targeted (but nothing mean about the aggressor, because you’re setting an example, not retaliating)
- Reporting the harassment. Tell someone who can help, like a parent, teacher, or school counselor
Sharing these strategies with your tweens helps them realize that simple actions can serve as a way to help others.
Know it’s Ok to Be an Upstander Privately
Since not all kids feel comfortable being so public as upstanders, Be Internet Awesome reminds us to reassure our tweens that it’s ok if they don’t feel comfortable helping out publicly. Let them know they can also support the target privately by doing any of these things:
- Ask how they’re doing in a text or direct message
- Say something kind or complimentary in an anonymous post, comment, or direct message (if you’re using media that lets you stay anonymous)
- Tell them you’re there for them if they want to talk after school
- In a quiet conversation in person or on the phone, tell them you thought the mean behavior was wrong and ask if they feel like talking about what happened.
Kids should know that no matter how they choose to be an upstander, they have both public and private options for reporting. This could mean reporting bullying behavior via a website or application interface, or reporting what’s going on to an adult you trust.
Make the Conversation Relevant by Providing Scenarios
There will be some instances when your tween will know exactly what to do to be an upstander but other times it might be more difficult. Theoretical scenarios help kids think about how they might act in different situations and examples of bullying and harassment from the From Bystanders to Upstanders: Activity 1 (Be Internet Awesome curriculum, page 50-51) are worth discussing. I suggest bringing up one scenario to make the learning more impactful during your teachable moment conversation. Save other ones for dinner conversation or times
Here’s a peek at one of the three scenarios in Be Internet Awesome:
A friend of yours dropped her phone by the drinking fountain near the school soccer field. Someone found it and sent a really mean message about another student to a bunch of people on her soccer team, then put the phone back by the drinking fountain. The student who was targeted told your friend she was a terrible person for sending that message, even though she wasn’t the one who sent it. No one knows who sent the mean message. You…
- Feel sad for your friend but do nothing because no one knows who did that mean thing to her
- Go find the person targeted and ask them how they feel and whether you can help
- Spread the drama by sharing the mean message with other friends
- And your friend get everybody on the soccer team to post compliments about the person who was targeted
- And your friend anonymously report the incident to your principal, letting them know that everybody needs to talk about good phone security and locking their phones.
Additional examples can be found in Be Internet Awesome It’s Cool to Be Kind: Activity 2 (page 54) where you can find three different situations where there are various ways to support a target including:
- A student posts a video of themselves singing a cover to a famous pop artist’s song. Other students start posting mean comments under the video. What do you do to support the student who posted the video?
- A student sends another student a screenshot of a comment your friend posted and makes a nasty joke about it. The screenshot gets reposted and goes viral at school. What will you do to support the student whose comment was screenshotted and shared?
- You find out that a student at your school created a fake social media account using another student’s name and posts photos and memes that say mean things about other students, teachers, and the school. What do you decide to do to support the student who’s being impersonated in this mean way?
About Be Internet Awesome
We know that our kids don’t always listen to us but when topics are important, it’s critical that they listen. It’s even better when they engage in meaningful dialogue to truly understand the consequences of their actions which is why I’m so thankful that Google’s Be Internet Awesome has a wealth of resources for parents to teach tweens to treat each other with kindness in the real and virtual worlds.
Be Internet Awesome consists of five areas and during each week in October, I’ll be highlighting a theme that corresponds to these important values:
- SMART: Where we learn to share with care
- ALERT: Where we learn not to fall for fake
- STRONG: Where we learn how to secure our digital stuff
- KIND: Where we learn that itʼs cool to be kind
- BRAVE: Where we learn that, when in doubt, we talk it out
This multifaceted program is designed to teach kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety, so they can explore the online world with confidence. Free materials provide talking points for family discussions and activities that help you create a strong foundation for your kids’ safe, successful use of the Internet.
Free Be Internet Awesome Resources for Families
This month I’m working with Be Internet Awesome to help you start a conversation with your tweens so they can take simple actions to be an Upstander, rather than a bystander, among their peers. Each week this month I’m be covering a different theme and here’s a look at past posts and what’s to come!
- How Google Be Internet Awesome Teaches Kids It’s Cool to Be Kind
- 6 Questions Parents Need to Ask Kids to Reinforce Kindeness in the Digital World as a way to teach them how to treat others how you’d like to be treated, both online and IRL
Posts that will be published throughout the month:
- October 10 (today!) — Be an Upstander! An Upstander fights bad behavior and stands up for kindness and positivity
- October 17 — Do simple actions to turn negative interactions into positive ones
- October 24 — Make good decisions when choosing what to say and how to deliver it
- October 31 — Spread kindness online
For more information about Be Internet Awesome, visit g.co/BeInternetAwesome.
This post is sponsored by Google and Be Internet Awesome but all opinions are my own.