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SALT LAKE CITY — The other day my oldest son came home from school saying he had learned about cyberbullying in class.
Being only 9 years old, he isn't a member of any social media sites, and the only email address he has is one he uses in his computer class at school. Due to this, he had little to no reference point when it came to what he had learned at school.
Wanting to make some sort of connection, my son asked, “Mom, is cyberbullying when people make mean comments to you on the computer, because I've had that happen before.”
Puzzled, I asked him what happened. He went on to explain that he had watched a YouTube video of one of his favorite soccer players, Lionel Messi. He said when he looked down at the comments, he saw that people were writing mean things about him.
In his 9-year-old typing, he proceeded to write a comment defending his favorite player. Right away, he said, there were people who replied, calling him stupid — citing both his taste in soccer players and his grammar skills.
While my son hadn't told me about this before, and he said that it really hurt his feelings. He said that he was scared to watch that video again because he knew those mean comments were there.
“Those people don't even know me,” he said. “How can people say such mean things to people they don't even know,” he asked?
As a writer — and one who is no stranger to message boards — I knew exactly what he was talking about. I know what it is like to write something you feel passionately about, and 10 seconds later you're being blasted by people writing mean and hurtful things just because they can.
I know just how it feels to be afraid to revisit what you have written because those same comments are forever attached to what you wrote. What was once a thought intended to help others is now tied to mean and hurtful comments by people who don't know you.
These people don't know your heart, your mind or your intent. They are looking to get offended and are finding message boards as the perfect forum to voice their mean and hurtful commentary.
I have often posed the same question to my husband that my son posed to me: How can people say such mean things to people they don't even know?
I wish I had an answer to this question, but I don't.
As I see it, mean comments on message boards is very much a form of cyberbullying. People can sit behind their computer screens writing hurtful things without any regard for who they are writing to.
Some will say not to read the comments. Fine, but somewhere amidst all the bad are trickles of good. Unfortunately, sifting though the bad is necessary to find the good.
Many say to develop a thicker skin. To this, I say a simple "no." I like my thin skin, and I love that my children have that same thin skin. Thin skin allows you to better feel things — not only yourself, but for others. Sensitivity is a character trait that is sorely needed in this world.
Message boards are necessary. They are necessary to provide a means for readers and viewers to express opinions, whether for or against. Unfortunately, many have found it as yet another way to bully behind their computer screens without thought of who they are writing to.
For all you know, your comment could be directed at a teenager who just finished another difficult day at school; a young mom who is just trying to make sense of her new, challenging world; or even a 9-year-old boy who just likes to watch soccer.
Arianne Brown is a mother of six who loves running the beautiful trails around Utah. For more articles by Arianne, "like" her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter @arimom5, or visit her blog, timetofititin.com. If you have a story to share, contact her at email@example.com.