This article was originally published in the Huffington Post by Sue Scheff.
It's a truth universally acknowledged: kids tune out their parents. They don't tune out other kids, though; we all remember hanging on an admired peer's every word when we were young.
Since so much of students' lives together take place in various nooks and crannies of the Internet, let's look at how teens can help each other out, making their social lives more satisfying and trouble-free by being cyber-shields for each other.
I've written about how both parents and teachers can play a pivotal role as cyber-shields to ensure a safe online life for their children by putting on their advisory hat and, when needed, shielding their kids from harm. We should also encourage children to act as social media role models for each other: friend-to-friend, sibling-to-sibling.
On Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere, reaching out to an acquaintance who's struggling can be a small, simple act that changes a life. The fact that a crowd is always watching makes students each other's best protectors.
From an early age, peers are enormous influences on kids' lives - some researchers even conclude that kids learn more from their peers than from parents. Meanwhile, the "mean girls" and "cool kids" mentality extends beyond the schoolyard and onto the Internet, amplifying the messages children receive from schoolmates.
In a recent Vanity Fair article, a teen was quoted saying, "...There's 'The Rich Kids of Instagram,' which is these kids trying to show off their wealth, and it's so not OK, it's revolting, but it still makes me feel bad about myself -- kind of like I'm not part of it." Social media maneuvering creates a divide between the "in crowd" and kids who feel ashamed that they aren't a part of it, which is what some students now call FOMO, short for "fear of missing out."
Instead of ostracizing peers for being unworthy of their circle of friends, what if teens fostered inclusiveness and acceptance?
For an example, we need look no further than the West High Bros in Iowa City, a group that uses Twitter to dish out compliments to other students in their high school.
A recent tweet to a fellow pupil stated, "you've been through so much yet you're always there for everyone no matter what. That's what makes you the best of the best." In another tweet to a classmate, @westhighbros wrote, "you're such a down to earth nice guy. Really appreciate your kindness and honesty to everyone. Love having classes with you!"
A Platform for Good featured the founder of the group's insight, kicking off an entire movement, and the creation of West High Bros was a byproduct of an all-star student reaching out to a less "popular" classmate in his freshman year.
So, how do we help our children to build a mentorship program with their friends and siblings? It's easy!
Begin with your own social media habits. Communication and being a social media role model always takes precedence. Lead by example and share with your children, tweens and teens to do the same. My Kindness Counts is another excellent resource -- their mission is to encourage young people from around the nation to work together, brainstorming better ways to address bullying in their communities.
Discuss this article with them to show how kindness can go viral, and the value of being an upstander instead of standing by. They might be surprised at how many of their peers will follow their lead.
Everyone likes to be needed, and paying kindness forward is an attribute that we should instill in our children when they're young. Its benefits reverberate well beyond just those on the receiving end.
• Kids can be teachers too. The more they learn about online safety, the more able and willing they will be to mentor others.
• Create a club in your school where kids can learn to look out for each other.
• Be part of a proactive community of helping others learn about being safe online.
• If you witness cyberbullying, don't be a bystander, be an upstander.
• Youth unite worldwide against bullying. Join willUstand and make a difference in the lives of other kids.
The kids are back in school, are you prepared to talk about cyberbullying? Use our infographic, Back to School Cyberbullying, to get informed.