Nope, black holes is not how I wanted to end that title, however, for the purposes of not offending I didn’t use another – far more apt – describing word for the merciless, cowardly predators trawling the net for victims.
Firstly, let’s put to bed the moans and groans about our children having robust online lives. It is REALITY! It is not going away, so the only way is forward. And forward means really good education for children and parents about what is out there on the net that’s dark, lurking, ominous, waiting in the shadows to pounce.
Popularly, these menacing shadow dwellers are called trolls – a name taken from a dark, mythological creature, used in children’s stories to instil fear. The Three Billy Goats Gruff – a childhood tale of happy little goats clippity-cloppitying along until they get to the bridge and there encounter a troll. The littlest goat says, “Hey, wait for my bigger brother and eat him up instead – he’s much more filling.” The second little goat also deflects the unwanted attention of the troll by telling him to wait for his bigger brother. And then the biggest brother comes along and heroically knocks the troll off the bridge and into the stream, never to be seen again.
And that is exactly where traditional tales of yore and today’s internet reality part company. Yes, there are similarities – internet trolls hide in places, use false identities and wait for victims. In fact, they don’t wait, they go looking. But, a show of strength is not enough to deter a troll from their core business. Trolling is not about bullying or shaming – it is a way to get a reaction – as negative as possible. Trolls do not care about your issues. They are not commenting because they really believe what they’re saying – they’re simply looking for a massive reaction. This is their fun. Yes, strange, psychopathic behaviour but that’s what a troll is all about. You see, trolls tick all these boxes:
- They work together in packs.
- They’re emotional vampires.
- They have low – even no empathy and enjoy inflicting emotional pain.
- They LOVE a meaty response to a purposeful provocation.
- They’re not brave – hiding behind their keyboards and screens, they use false names and create false identities.
- They WANT to create havoc and chaos. They WANT you to be upset. They FEED on people’s emotional reactions to their psychopathic taunts.
Trolls feed off attention, outcry and high levels of emotion. Just like a fire, they grow bigger and brighter with the fuel they’re given to consume – do you know what that is? Here’s some examples:
- You mention a difficulty and a troll comes along and says you deserve it – you respond, outraged and angry. Troll fire fuelled.
- You reach out to a friend supportively and a troll comes along and says your friend is worthless – your friendship group responds outraged and angry. Troll fire fuelled.
- You are part of a particular support group and a contentious issue is raised. Normally people play nicely but today someone stirs up the group. Response after response builds – and where’s the troll? Sitting back, mission accomplished, looking for another fire.
So parents, what’s the fix?
- Know your online resources that really help. Have you been here https://www.esafety.gov.au The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner has virtually everything a parent requires to become educated about what’s out there and how to manage it.
- Get online with your kids – now, today. Show them your Facebook page, show them your other social media platforms and go looking for the trolls. They’re really easy to spot. Their comments are always:
- The exact opposite to whatever anyone else is saying. If people are supportive – they’re not. If people are upset – they’re there, being mean.
- Educate about the value of not responding at all. Remember, trolls are emotional vampires – they feed on people’s responses so starving them of a reaction is best! Then… Block. Screenshot. Report.
- Know how to contact the site moderator to get the comment removed or the thread closed down. Block. Screenshot. Report. If needed (depending on the trolling involved) involve the police.
- Have a group secret code word that tells everyone on the chat that a troll is about and not to comment. Then… Block. Screenshot. Report. Many social media sites have the option to share your blocked list with friends – blocking trolls enmasse works.
- Empower other people affected by the troll to remove the troll’s fuel. Simply say nothing. Silence is a troll’s worst nightmare. Block. Screenshot. Report.
- Teach your child that a troll doesn’t believe what they’re saying. They just want a reaction. So you can’t convince a troll in an argument that what they’ve said is mean, inflammatory, insulting, or simply wrong. The troll doesn’t care – all they want is a response. Don’t give them one – however tempting.
It’s a changing world for our children and educating them about what’s out there without catastrophizing and scaring them witless is the way we need to go. Trolls are out there and our young people can learn to manage them magnificently well with some direct and explicit instruction, regular check-ins and our understanding and acceptance of the importance of their online lives.
To find out more about BEST Programs 4 Kids’ resources for children, parents, educators and health professionals, take a further look through our website. We also welcome emails (really!) at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re the Children’s Wellbeing Experts – and it’s our mission to help you become one too.
Claire Orange and Helen Davidson
Directors, Authors, Speakers