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Free speech isn't free

BULLYING: Are bullies more prevalent now? Columnist Lyn Irwin-Kelly thinks not.
BULLYING: Are bullies more prevalent now? Columnist Lyn Irwin-Kelly thinks not. Luka Kauzlaric

THE human brain is a complex organ and many people make careers trying to fathom its workings, encoding and decoding its messages and seeking patterns of behaviour.

The workings of teenage brains seem to be even more incomprehensible. At least to me, as the mother of two teenagers with differing personalities and operating systems.

One can be deflated by a criticism, the other sees it as a challenge. The two reactions can be interchangeable depending on the situation and the child.

And the likelihood of parents predicting the reaction is, at best, a 70-30 bet. The 30 per cent odds comprise 10 per cent of the child reacting in a manner contrary to expectations and the remaining 20 per cent can be attributed to outside forces about which the parent knows zero.

Are bullies more prevalent today than they have been in the past? I doubt it.

What has changed is access to their targets. For example, with social media, bullies can reach their target or other audiences more quickly and widely than, say, behind the shed at school.

As someone who has worked in the media for decades, I am cognisant of the damage that can be done to a person's reputation if, for example, heresay is published or if, in building up one person, another is destroyed.

There are laws in place to deter people from defaming others and, while journalists know them, social media users exhibit a complete lack of such knowledge or indifference to them.

Free speech isn't free: It comes at a cost, whether to the speaker (flak or monetary damages) or the person being spoken about. It's not just young people who say cruel or hurtful things but their excuse is they haven't had years to acquire better judgment.

If you feel the need to vent - and who doesn't - choose your audience carefully.

Verbalise your comments to someone who is unlikely to spread them. Someone with the wisdom to realise you are just getting something off your chest in the heat of the moment. Someone who realises that your words are your version of the truth at that moment and may be in need of moderation with hindsight.

Whatever you do, don't spread unkind words to the victim's peers. You are giving validation to intentional perpetrators and causing discomfort to unintentional ones. Parents have an almighty task ensuring their children are neither bullied nor bullies themselves.

We need to instil in them that the words they use on social media can come back to bite them.

This is not to say we should lie. We shouldn't. But we need to consider the consequences of our words. You never know how an individual might react to a thoughtless comment.

It's generally unnecessary to belittle someone, so don't do it. And, in cases of criminal activity, report it to the authorities, certainly before you tell your social media followers.

And encourage anyone being victimised to turn off their phones, block unsavoury people and speak to someone if they need help.

Topics:  bullying lyn irwin-kelly parenting adolescents


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