Back on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis’s call for Catholics to give up posting harmful words online during Lent appeared to be a great challenge for the digital age, especially for kids, to undertake during the traditional fasting period.
The Pontiff said we lived in an "atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence" which was "amplified by the internet". If you spend a few minutes on any social media platform, you won’t be hard-pressed to find some ‘trolls’ sharing their views.
This type of behaviour is not limited to adults; internet safety and security expert Steven Woda says most tweens and younger teens go through a phase where they test the limits, seeing what reactions they can elicit from others by saying outrageous things.
The danger with this is that ‘casual’ harmful or violent speech might seem funny to a tween or teen trying to get a rise out of his mum or impress his peers but can be very hurtful and offensive to others. It could even get your child banned from a website.
Now, as we face the cancellation of group events, self-isolation and lockdowns because of COVID-19, the Pontiff’s words are more relevant than ever as we need to rely on social media and digital methods to stay in touch with friends and family.
With our kids spending more and more time online to stay connected, here are some tips to help them build good online habits and behaviours:
- Make sure they know to treat others as they want to be treated.
- Advise them not to share hateful or threatening content online but report it to that particular platform or parents.
- Tell them not to say something online that they wouldn’t say to a person’s face.
- Ensure kids are aware of the community guides on the platforms they use, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. Find out more, including parental control guides, here.
- Ask them if they know about online hate, would they recognise it?
- Encourage your children to have an open attitude and honest curiosity about other people because some instances of verbal violence are based on ignorance or false information.
- Similarly, look for terms that might creep into your child’s vocabulary. Sometimes kids (and adults) use harmful terms without realising it. I admit I was guilty of using a couple of terms as a teenager, completely out of ignorance, until I was horrified to be told that they were offensive to a certain ethnic group.
Right now, more than ever, the world needs kindness. Let’s not limit the Pope’s challenge to the Lenten season, let’s make it a new way of life.
-Written by a TC parent