My favorite part of the journey I'm on as a writer is the people I've met along the way. Galit Breen is one of those amazing individuals I never would have met had I not mustered up the courage to chase my dream. She's one of the kindest, warmest people I've ever encountered, so it broke my heart when I heard she'd been the victim of cyberbullying. Leave it to Galit to take something bad and flip it on its head, using it to make the world a better place. Can't say enough how much I adore this woman or how happy I am to introduce you to her today. ~Heather
3 Lessons I Learned From Being Cyberbullied
This summer I wrote an online article about marriage and the comments that came in on it were about my weight. I learned a lot from this. These are my top three lessons from experiencing cyberbullying firsthand and how we can use them to help our kids if it happens to them.
1. Cyberbullying hurts. It hurts a lot. Even though my friends didn’t know what had happened because they weren’t checking the article comments like I was, it felt like everyone knew and I was embarrassed and devastated. I felt very alone.
Lesson learned: Don’t diminish this hurt. Allow the person who experiences cyberbullying to feel sad, mad, and embarrassed without ever (not even once) telling them, “It’s not that big of a deal.”
2. When I talked about what happened, I felt better. When I turned inward all I had was my own hurt. But when I turned outward, I had all the goodness of the people around me. This was a lift.
Lesson learned: Don’t silence someone who is speaking up. Bring it up, listen when they want to talk, hold space for this significant experience. We focus a lot on staying positive in our society. And I do believe in the power of positivity, but talking about the negative, the hard, the ugly has its place, too. And this is it.
3. This world is filled with a lot of good people. But you only get to reap the benefits of this if you let them in. I’m a tried-and-true introvert, reaching out can be hard for me. But I would still be in a very bad place if I didn’t let good people get close.
Lesson learned: We have to pick who we surround ourselves with purposefully. And we have to teach our kids this skill as well. I’ve been very transparent with my own children about how good the people in our lives are, and that I had to reach out to them first before they knew to be there for me. In this case, letting someone “in” can be translated as letting someone into our hearts, into our vulnerabilities. This isn’t easy for everyone. We need to encourage and model this for our kids. And we need to show them that this works by listening to them and being there for them when they do it.
A few months after my cyberbullying experience, after I had a chance to be good and sad about it, I did speak up. I wrote a second article calling out my cyberbullies and calling for online kindness. That article went viral. I wasn’t alone anymore.
From there, I chose to take lemons—being called fat online—and make lemonade—write a book about how to teach our kids to be kind online. I even titled it, Kindness Wins.
All of this happened to me as an adult. And even though I had the perspective and experience of understanding the power of using our voices and telling our stories, it was still a process to get to the “doing” part of things. I wasn’t able to, in Heather’s words, leave my mark—immediately or alone.
So if someone you care about is cyberbullied remember to move slowly in giving them time to be sad and listening to them talk. And move quickly in telling them that their story matters, that they matter, in standing by their side, and in telling their story, too.
Heather asked me to share what mark I want to leave on the world. Kindness Wins is definitely it. I want to be a part of the conversation that creates a culture of kindness where all of us and our kids can be online without the assumption that one of us will be cyberbullied. I want online kindness to be a given and cyberbullying to be the surprise. It’s through these conversations that we’ll not just say that kindness wins, but ensure that it does.
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.