Recently I have been reminded how anonymity can cloud our judgment and perhaps gives us permission to do or say something we wouldn’t say in person.
Things like body language, voice inflection, and eye contact used to be an integral part of the communication process. We had to be aware of how our words were received, speak earnestly but respectfully. Of course, sometimes, that is a hindrance and keeps us from speaking freely for fear of the other person’s response. But is that so bad? Has texting, instant chat, email, and social networking made us more honest or just more inconsiderate?
When my oldest daughter first opened an email account last year when she was 12, we set some basic ground rules. My husband and I talked to her about things like sending inappropriate pictures, unnecessary forwards to family members, bad-mouthing other students, and of course, cyber-bullying and basic Internet safety. We also linked her email account with our household account so that we would get copies of all her correspondence. Typically, I don’t really look at them. The emails all get funneled into a file and occasionally I will glance at the subject lines or take a peak at an attachment. On one occasion, I noticed a subject titled with another student’s name.
It was a conversation between several girls about another student. The email was neither kind, nor appropriate. In fact, it was downright hurtful, and to make matters worse, the child that the email was about was included in the forward. She now knew exactly what her classmates thought of her. My heart broke.
When my daughter, who was in seventh grade at the time, got home from school, I sat her down and asked her to listen to something. I read the email out loud, only I changed the child’s name to my daughter’s. By the time I was done, my daughter was teary-eyed too.
“That sounded really bad,” she said, “I had no idea how mean those words really were. They didn’t look so bad in the email.”
“Don’t you think she deserves an apology?” I asked.
“Yeah, but, she is so mean. Nobody likes her.”
“So, you’re saying that mean people deserve to be treated mean.”
“I’ll apologize at school tomorrow,” she replied.
“At school, privately?” I asked, “Do you think that’s really fair since you publicly humiliated her?”
As hard as it was to swallow her pride, my daughter finally decided she would write an apology email to this girl, copying every one else on the original email too. She did not speak for any of the other girls, just for herself. I know she was a little concerned about the outcome the next day. She worried her friends would be mad at her for apologizing.
The next day, I was greeted by a very cheerful daughter bounding off the bus.
“Mom! You won’t believe what happened at school today! At lunch, that girl we talked about approached me. She stood right in front of all of us and said: Thank you for your apology. Maybe we could eat lunch together sometime.”
“Wow,” I said. “That is great.”
“But, Mom, that wasn’t the best part. My friends made room for her to sit down.”