“Made” You Look!

The recent news of cyber bullying is a reminder of how “interesting” teenage life can be. While teasing, tormenting, and harassing behaviours have long existed; the apparent anonymity of the Internet emboldens some to post cruel, nasty comments that they would never say face-to-face. This bullying behaviour seems risk-free to the perpetrator; it doesn’t even carry the old-fashioned consequence of having to identify yourself.

The recipient, beset by anonymous tormentors, gets drawn in, continuously checking for updates. What horrible things are they saying about me now?

Is there anything in Reality Therapy that could be helpful for a teenager suffering cyber-distress? Here are two “self-defense” strategies to consider:

  • The power of internal control
  • The need for love & belonging

Please realize that these strategies are offered as additions to, not in place of, the essential roles of police, school officials, and other services.

The Power of Internal Control:

Here’s a question: “If you know people are writing nasty things about you, why look? Why not turn off the computer? Ignore it?”

Easier said than done, eh?

In his book Choice Theory, Dr Glasser uses the example of a ringing phone when he discusses why we do the things we do. People have a common-sense belief that the ringing of the phone makes us answer it. After all, you don’t answer a non-ringing phone, do you?

Glasser refers to this common-sense belief as external control. External control leads us to believe that triggers external to us: ringing phones, new tweets, other people’s actions, can make us do things.

In contrast, the choice theory premise is that we are not externally motivated, but rather internally motivated. Phones, traffic lights, people—they all offer information to us, but they don’t make us do things. The phone’s ring provides information—someone wants to talk to us (or sell to us…) We may choose to answer; we may choose not to answer.

Often, we don’t think about choices; we just answer the phone. However, as Glasser puts it, “Instantaneous as our response may be, every time we answer a phone, we have decided that this is the best choice.”

The idea that external triggers don’t make you do things can be wonderfully freeing. The teenager who recognizes that a nasty facebook post is just information maintains his/her own power. You have control over what you choose to do. Nasty comments can’t make you do anything. Nope. Not a thing.

What might you choose to do? You can look. You can choose not to look. You can look and ignore. You can respond. You could even “de-friend!” (After all, “friends” are people who support, encourage, trust, and respect you, aren’t they?)

To find your way out of the clutches of external control, one self-defense strategy is to learn Choice Theory. (Big surprise, eh?) For a young person, I recommend the wonderfully accessible workbook, “A Set of Directions for Putting and Keeping Yourself Together” by Dr. Robert Wubbolding.

In the next column, I’ll offer a second self-defense strategy—one that concerns the role of relationships and everyone’s need for love and belonging.

So, did I make you look?

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