Tips & Advice

Digital Sanity Summit: How to deal with cyberbullying

Malea Lamb-Hall, 2 April 2020

Blake & Dave, co-founders of My Life Online, teach kids the right way to respond to cyberbullies

In our third post discussing the Digital Sanity Summit, we learn how to combat cyberbullying with a tactic that transforms potential harm into proactive healing. 

The Digital Sanity Summit is a free online event from March 30-April 3 that features a panel of experts offering useful insights to help parents navigate how to raise kids in the digital age. Earlier this week, we posted about Avast’s Leena Elias and her Summit talk on how to keep families safe online, as well as the Council of Europe’s Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov and her tips for parents of tech-using kids

Now, we switch over to the kids’ point of view. Enter Blake and Dave. 

They are the co-founders of My Life Online, a program that reaches across schools and communities to teach children how to be safe, smart, and kind online. Their secret? They don’t talk down to the kids, and they don’t lecture them. Instead, they empower the kids by talking to them in their language, at their level. They teach about respect and decency online, and one of their lessons concerns how to deal with cyberbullying. 

While kids cannot control the words or actions of a bully, they can control how they respond to those words or actions. “A new life skill that we believe kids need to be equipped with is how to handle haters,” says Blake. “So, we have this three-step approach to handling haters online.” The approach was designed for kids, but Blake and Dave invite grownups of all ages to apply it to any negative confrontations.

Blake & Dave’s 3-step response to cyberbullying

  1. Rate the hate – In this first step, kids are encouraged to size up the nasty comment or hurtful act and assess whether it connotes a high level of hate or a low level. The advice is, “If it’s a high level of hate, let someone know. If it’s a low level of hate, let it go.” This process helps kids see the cyberbullying in an objective light right off the bat, which may help them avoid making a big deal out of nothing. If the hate is deemed severe, kids are urged to tell an adult right away. Usually, Blake says, the hate is rated somewhere in the middle, not too high and not too low. For those cases, we move on to steps 2 and 3.
  2. Write yourself an “I” message – This is an opportunity for the child to respond to their own hurt feelings while avoiding retaliation and escalation. They do this by writing a message to themselves, NOT to the bully. In their “I” message, they reverse and reframe the bully’s sentiments. For instance, if a child receives the message, “You’re dumb and ugly,” the “I” message in response could be “I’m smart and beautiful.” The child must write this message down so they can see it visually. Better yet, they’re urged to actually text the message to themselves, so that the very next message they get on their device is this positive affirmation. Seeing the positive words can undo some of the hurt from seeing the negative words.
  3. Write and send a “you” message – To further erase the negativity, kids then should write a message of positivity to a friend or family member. It could be words of encouragement, a compliment, a funny picture, a favorite song, or anything that will make the recipient smile. By doing this, the child who was just bullied empowers himself or herself to feel not like a victim, but like a force of positivity and good feelings. 

The end result of these steps is that by avoiding retaliation, kids minimize flame wars that could get out of control and do serious damage. Instead, the online hate serves as a cue for kids to take care of themselves and to ask for help if they need it, as well as to spread positivity to others in their lives. 

You can see Blake and Dave’s entire talk at the Digital Sanity Summit, free online for this week only.