Willow Palin: A Lesson on CyberbullyingNovember 29, 2010
If there’s one thing Sarah Palin is an expert on, it’s damage control — even if that damage has been caused by one of her own kids. Palin was faced with another one of these challenges last week when TMZ and other gossip websites reported on a few of 16-year-old Willow Palin’s Facebook comments, in which she uses ugly homophobic slurs against a classmate who criticized her mom’s new reality show. Sources “connected to the Palin family” explained that Willow does not usually use this kind of language but acted as a “baby bear defending mama grizzly.”
Sure, we all may resort to spewing harsh words in an argument, especially when it’s about one of our family members. But if you normally refuse to use certain epithets in everyday situations, how likely are you to resort to spur-of-the-moment homophobia in an online spat? It is understandable that Willow was angry and wanted to insult this person, but there are many other words she could have chosen that do not hold the deep-seated hatefulness that homophobic slurs do.
Of course, Willow is facing this backlash because her mother is a public figure. Although the consequences of cyberbullying and homophobia have been in the news lately, the same comments from a random teenager wouldn’t make headlines. Some of the media coverage has been aimed at scolding Willow, a responsibility that is normally in the hands of parents and teachers.
But what should parents be doing to guard against this kind of technologically advanced bullying?
AAUW fellowship recipient Rosalind Wiseman — author of Queen Bees & Wannabes, the book that inspired the film Mean Girls — has a few pointers for how to address this behavior in children or teens. If computer and cell phone usage is made into a privilege and not a right, kids will go the extra mile to make sure it is not taken away. She advises that parents should “sit down with your kids and say: ‘If you use [your computer or cell phone] to demean or humiliate people, like forward[ing] embarrassing pictures, I’m taking it away and will make you earn it back through chores you’ll hate. If you forward something, I think of it just as if you created the content.’”
In light of the recent news coverage regarding cyberbullying, it is especially important for parents to have this conversation with their kids and make sure they are not victims or perpetrators.
This blog post was written by Communications Fellow Nicole Dubowitz.