I’ve been hearing about increased cyberbullying recently, as children started spending astronomically more time online to do school classes that way amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among other things, I heard some kids were using the chat feature during class to make fun of other kids. Disappointing, but not a big surprise.
The shocker for me was learning that some of the most cruel behavior online comes from from parents.
And they’re high-fiving each other because they think that they’re funny,
The parents have been taking the “New Teacher Challenge” on TikTok, a viral goof-fest that’s supposed to be funny — and might actually be funny if it hadn’t strayed into territory that can only be described as ignorant and unkind.
The challenges goes something like this: As a parent, you pretend to be having a teleconference with your child’s new teacher. Then you invite the child over for a brief online meet and greet. But instead of meeting an actual teacher, the child is confronted with a scary or goofy image. The purpose is to record the child’s reaction and then share it for the pleasure of your social media friends.
The viral challenge got most of its attention, though, because thoughtless parents have been using pictures of real people who have disabilities or who have been burned or injured in ways that alter their appearance.
The key thought here is real people. People just like the rest of us with feelings, who don’t want how they look to be misused. And teaching kids to gasp or squeal or laugh or cry at someone’s appearance is a really lousy thing to do and a poor lesson to offer a child.
It’s hard to fix the problem once it goes online. Years ago, I wrote about a young man who had severe developmental disabilities. Not long after, I was alerted that someone had pirated the photo that ran with the article and it was being used in anti-vaccine memes, making him the inadvertent poster boy for what supposedly happens if your child is vaccinated, though vaccines had nothing to do with his disability, nor did he or his family give permission to use his image in that dishonest way.
Absent great skill with makeup, most of us just look how we look. If I controlled how I look, believe me when I say I’d be taller and more svelte, with thick dark locks and piercing blue eyes. And my chin would look considerably less like a scoop.
We all have features we would alter if we could wave a wand to change them, so I cannot understand two things about this imbecilic challenge: Why would you treat how actual people look with such callous disregard? Especially when it makes you look bad, not the person in the photo.
And why on earth would you want to scare children right now about school anyway? With so much of school’s joy buried — the drudgery part at the fore in this pandemic — with kids maneuvering carefully through the unknown, why make any aspect of it harder? A lot of kids are already so sad about lost activities and the challenges that it seems more-than-petty to add a moment’s burden to their load.
But folks who can’t be dissuaded from scaring kids for kicks could absolutely find other, less cruel ways to do it. Use a photo of a clown and get a shocked laugh instead of tears. If scary is a goal you can’t give up, grab one of the public photos from some Zombie walk. Some of the made-up families are absolutely terrifying.
Just don’t use real people out of context, without permission and in a cruel fashion. It’s the wrong thing to teach your kids about other human beings. It isn’t funny — and there’s the little matter of a legal right to publish such a photo. It’s a pretty sure bet you don’t have one.
We’ve all been battered by life recently. Let’s be kind to each other.