You’re an idiot.

                I hate you.         

                                I can ruin you.

                                                Why are you still alive?

 Everyday teens show me their texts and messages from social media.  Outside of “Wassup?” I see the above four lines, or variations, most frequently.

The writers of such lines are no longer simply troubled teens from troubled families.  They are often pretty good kids from pretty nice families.

These aren’t harmless words.  This isn’t just cyber-jargon.  And teens aren’t the only ones writing this stuff.

When did it become okay to blithely hate?  When did it become okay to forget that the receiver is a person who hopes and suffers and tries like the rest of us?

I don’t think the founder of social media, Mark Zuckerberg,  had any idea what he released onto the world with Facebook.  He didn’t realize that what we crave most isn’t keeping in touch with granny or sharing our sweet potato and kale pie recipe.

He didn’t know that our brains would LOVE social media because it would instantly tell us…”You are important,” “People agree with you,” and “your opinion matters.”

Ah joy!  This is the stuff I wish was built into every single day of our lives.  Before social media we could go days without the equivalent of a thumbs-up like. Before social media only the well connected, the famous, the powerful were published and heard.

What Zuckerberg didn’t realize was that a kind comment gets the sender far less attention than a negative comment. And the sad, sorry truth about our brains is that they sort of love positive and negative cyber-attention with equal gusto.

Likes….verbal battles…and a constant symphony of “dings” light us up, and so we start sending words most of us wouldn’t say to Grandma, our pastor, and certainly not our beloved children.

You’re an idiot.

                I hate you.         

                                I can ruin you.

                                                Why are you still alive?


I don’t need to tell you how harmful these words are to the receiver, the sender, to our community.  We haven’t known why these horrible habits started.  We do now.

So let’s start practicing and teaching our kids the way out of being cyber-cruel.

Let’s teach and model basic cyber etiquette.

  1. Whenever you are inspired to comment angrily, go ahead and write away.  Give yourself permission to say anything you want.
  2. Then DO NOT SEND!
  3. Take a pause…a holy pause…like when we bow our heads and give thanks before a meal…and not just for a minute…but for five…or an hour…or a day.
  4. Go back to your comment.  As you rewrite it remember the recipient is a human being…a soul…who loves their kids, dogs, ice cream and fireworks as much as the rest of us…and, like us, is, most likely, doing the best they can at the moment.
  5. Rewrite your comment until it is one you would send to Grandma, your pastor, or your kid.
  6. Then send your comment.

Explain to your kids that these sorts of comments may not get as many responses, but that they avoid negative consequences to others…to themselves…and to our community.

You’ll find that you and your kid will spend far less time online…and be far less agitated…and the world, both real and cyber…will be kinder to us all.

You are great.

                I adore you.

                                How can I support you?

                                                                   I am so glad you are here!

Elizabeth Clark

About the Author

Elizabeth Clark has been a mental health therapist for teens and families for thirty years.  She is a presenter for CyberStrong, a collaborative community effort, funded by the Western Colorado Community Foundation, to raise awareness and give skills to parents and educators about the influence of technology on our children, families and community.