When Galit Breen wrote an article on happy marriages for The Huffington Post last year, the last thing she expected to see was snarky responses about her wedding photo. More specifically, the size of her body in her wedding photo. Galit had been fat-shamed.
The follow-up piece about the incident that Galit wrote for xoJane moved me to tears. She expressed how she had allowed herself to be vulnerable in the HuffPo piece–something that all of us writers, all of us women, all of us–struggle with in our bid to be courageous mothers and partners and agents of change, and for that, she was rewarded with cruelty. Her story struck a nerve, and she quickly found herself speaking about the issue on the Today show and Inside Edition.
Around the same time, one of Galit’s daughters asked if she could start posting on social media. Galit thought about the implications, and that’s when she knew she’d been presented with an opportunity to make something good out of her cyberbullying ordeal. That “something good” is Kindness Wins, a book for adults on teaching kids to be kind online.
My relationship with Galit goes back to 2012, when we both had essays published in the breast-cancer-fundraiser Write for the Fight. Now, just days ahead of her new book’s publication, Galit has graciously stopped by to answer a couple of questions I posed about the topic of cyberbullying.
Me: I love that you’re being proactive in helping parents coach their kids on how to be good Internet citizens. What can we do to teach the adults who don’t get it? The trolls and meanies and sometimes downright cruel people?
Galit: This question is so, so important! As we’re trying to create a culture of kindness, this includes our kids and ourselves. Each section of the book contains a guide for how to talk to our kids about maneuvering online kindly and a section for how to discuss the same topic with our peers. This can feel tricky and daunting! But we ask an awful lot of our kids in standing up to things they see or hear that don’t feel right to them, I’m (gently) suggesting we ask the same of ourselves.
For example, when I was studying to be a teacher I had a mentor who told our class to always approach kids who are having a hard time with the assumption that they just don’t know how to do something, rather than thinking that they’re purposefully being difficult. I think this works here, too. We can approach adults who are being unkind online as if they didn’t know that what they’re doing is wrong. This gives us the freedom to speak up and still be kind with our word choices and, if we choose to do so in a comment thread, then others who are reading are also given the permission to stand up, too. It changes the conversation.
Me: What do you think it will take for “the cyberbullying talk” to become as engrained in our society’s parental handbook as “the menstrual cycle talk” and “the birds and the bees talk?” Or is it already well on its way?
Galit: I love this question so much because it’s so spot on. The more open, and diligent, we are in bringing up the topic of how necessary this conversation is for our kids–and as you pointed out, for ourselves–the more “normal” and everyday it will become. Right now, this responsibility falls on those of us who already use social media regularly because we already see the impact that both online kindness and cruelty can have. Our job is to make sure those we love get the benefit of what we’ve learned. The more we share with each other, the better. When a seasoned mom tells a new mom how she got her baby to sleep, eat, or learn how to write her name, she’s helping. This is the exact same thing. The more we talk about it the more normal, and expected, it will become.
The second half of this is joining our kids on social media. I discuss in Kindness Wins what a big advocate I am of being online with our kids and watching out not just for them, but for our friend’s kids as well. This terrain is too big to go at alone. But when we agree to look out for all of our kids, we all benefit and we further normalize the important conversations around cyberbullying and online kindness.
Keep this important discussion going: Add a comment below and you’ll be entered to win a digital copy of Galit’s new book (and I hope you’ll leave a review on Amazon once you’ve read it!). As a bonus for my readers who enter but don’t win, Galit’s publisher is offering a free Lemons to Lemonade Party and Book Discussion Guide if they purchase Kindness Wins! The book is available here, and I’ll contact you after the giveaway ends with the details on how to redeem your bonus.
Update: The winner of the book is Marie Ann Bailey. Congrats, Marie Ann!
About the book: Approximately four out of ten kids (42 percent) have experienced cyberbullying. Kindness Wins covers ten habits to directly teach kids as they’re learning how to be kind online. Each section is written in Breen’s trademark parent-to-parent-over-coffee style and concludes with resources for further reading, discussion starters, and bulleted takeaways. She concludes the book with two contracts―one to share with peers and one to share with kids. Just like we needed to teach our children how to walk, swim, and throw a ball, we need to teach them how to maneuver kindly online. This book will help you do just that.
About Galit: Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer and since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. You can learn more about Galit by visiting her blog These Little Waves, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.