“Trolling” is making inflammatory, anonymous statements on the Internet for the sole purpose of derailing an online discussion or provoking the other participants in the discussion. In other words, another way for kids to participate in cyberbullying. A troll, in Internet lingo, is somebody who does this. Often times you might encounter this image when searching for a “troll”:
Controversial subjects like religion and politics are popular with trolls, but they can and do lurk just about anywhere they can post an off-topic comment in hopes of flustering others. Discussion forums, chat rooms, blogs, and message boards are playgrounds for trolls.
Younger teens and tweens actually seem not to think trolling is all bad, according to a recent study. Kids like “trying on” the personality type and get a rise out of others. In general, tweens and younger teens are more likely to get a kick out of online jokes, like being Rick Rolled, even if it’s mean-spirited and the joke is on them.
Finding out that your son or daughter has been trolling online can be alarming, but for most younger teens and tweens it mostly amounts to experimentation. Most tweens go through a phase where they test the limits, seeing what reacting they can get out of others by saying outrageous things they don’t even mean.
The problem with trolling is that it’s hard for others to decipher the real intent and meaning of a troll. What seems like harmless fun to a tween just messing around on the Internet can be seen as hurtful cyberbullying by someone on the receiving end. Racist jokes and hate speech might seem funny to your child in the moment, but are offensive to others and could even get your child banned from a website or land them in legal trouble.
Establishing rules of online etiquette (and consequences for breaking said rules) are paramount in making sure that your tween or young teen is a responsible digital citizen. It may seem obvious to grown-ups that trolling is not a good idea for a lot of reasons, but don’t expect your 12-year-old to make that connection alone if you’ve never talked about it together.