The Shriver Report – Are Moms the Worst Offenders in Online Bullying?

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Are Moms the Worst Offenders in Online Bullying?

Ross_E_Mommy Wars Pic

There are those who don’t believe the so-called “Mommy Wars” are real. They insist the conflict is something created by the media to make a profit. A case of the tail wagging the dog, if you will.

There is no denying the media does what it can to fan the flames. But the simple fact is, there would be nothing to ignite if the embers did not burn within us.

The media is not making up the Mommy Wars. It is sensationalizing it, yes. Packaging it in a way fully intended to stir the pot. It pushes whatever hot buttons it discovers because that is its job, and frankly, it works.

Author and reporter Lauren Sandler was very accurate when she referred to motherhood as “war.” The online experiences she details are something many moms are subjected to, often unwittingly. Today, every parenting decision a mother makes leaves her open to attack, and there are no winners.

Blogging and social media have added a new dimension to the conflict between mothers. And the competition has spread far beyond the traditional work or stay at home debate. The battles are not isolated to the comment sections of blog posts and news articles, or fights on Twitter either.

There are concentrated, sustained efforts taking place by individuals and groups of women to defame, harass and silence other individuals and groups of women over differences in parenting ideology. Many times battles spill out from private groups and message boards and spread across the web.

It is cyber bullying in its truest form. Yet it is not part of our national conversation. When we talk about the bullying epidemic, it always pertains to children and youth. We do not seem to have come to terms with the fact that more and more adults are engaging in cyberbullying behavior.

The Internet offers an unprecedented opportunity to connect. For many a mom today, her support system exists in cyberspace. She can get on her computer or tablet or smart phone and chat with others any time, from anywhere. Many women interact more with other moms through the Internet than they do in person.

More than 34 million moms are online, and that number is expected to rise at least 12% each year (eMarketer 2009). They are one of the largest internet user segments in America and spend twice as much time online as the general population  – 66 hours a month on average (Nielson 2012). While online, moms most frequently visit parenting/family sites. Eighty percent of moms use social media regularly, with three out of four moms visiting Facebook in a month (Nielson 2012).

Everywhere moms go online there is conflict. It is a rarity to encounter a group of moms discussing a parenting topic online in a reasonable, composed manner. Moreover, there seems to be no end the list of topics that spawn vitriol and contempt, quickly spiraling out of control. The Internet has become the new battleground of the Mommy Wars.

On the one hand, it is not difficult to understand why this occurs. After all, is there anything we are more emotionally invested in than our roles as parents? Add the ability to be anonymous or attack en masse, and the levels the virtual Mommy Wars can reach are not surprising.

But when you consider adults are regularly engaging in this behavior, there is cause for alarm. The online battles being waged by mothers are a symptom of a much greater problem it behooves us to address.

A annual report published earlier this year revealed incivility has “become the default in too many of our interactions and is affecting the very fabric of society.”

The Civility In America 2013 study looked rather extensively at incivility online, acknowledging the Internet is “the modern-day playground for bullies.”

Twenty-four percent of survey participants – all adults – had personally experienced cyberbullying. That represents a threefold increase since 2011. And significant increases were seen among women and parents from 2012 to 2013:

Source: Civility in America 2013

Source: Civility in America 2013

The problem is spreading.

“I believe the key to truly affecting positive change in the bullying epidemic among children and youth is examining more closely the role of adult attitudes and behaviors.”

I believe the key to truly affecting positive change in the bullying epidemic among children and youth is examining more closely the role of adult attitudes and behaviors. One way I have been working to address the issue of cyber bullying between moms is through The Mom Pledge.

Women who take the Pledge commit to following a set of principles in all their online activities. They promise to take control of their experiences and not fall prey to trolling or baiting. I work to provide them with the tools they need to get past the cacophony of many online interactions, avoid conflict and engage in civil discourse.

True dialogue is a good thing. And an important part of the discernment process so critical to parenting. But far too many people have become so caught up in being right all they do is try to “yell” the loudest. And name-calling, insults and hateful language never contribute to productive communication.

Parenting topics must be approached with respect. Which, in my opinion, is sorely lacking today. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost the ability to engage in a civil manner. Instead of discussing important issues, we scream at one another.

I agree with Ms. Sandler that there are far more important issues women should be discussing concerning “the conflict between parenthood and the business of modern life.” As much time as women spend connecting online, it is unfortunate the discussion isn’t more focused and productive.

Moms spend a great deal of energy fighting over issues like over breast versus bottle. Or whether or not a woman should cover while nursing in public. There are far fewer conversations taking place concerning the challenges of modern parenting presented by the overall attitudes, expectations and structure of our society.

The reality is women are at war. They are fighting to find balance in their lives. Fighting for the quality of life they want for their families. Fighting to stay sane while striving to meet society’s unattainable expectations, as well as their personal ones.

Moms most certainly have enough to deal with; they don’t need to worry about fighting with each other. And as long as they continue to do so, the focus will be diverted from the issues that truly have the ability to make an impact on our lives.

There will never be progress to that end until we change the overall tone of discourse in this country. It begins with individuals taking control and responsibility for their actions and refusing to be part of the problem.

We all have the power to make a difference. The question is, will enough of us try to do so?



In the News:

Elizabeth Flora Ross is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Elizabeth Flora Ross is a nonfiction writer and life is her muse. She writes about her own experiences as a way of connecting with and inspiring others. She is the author of Cacophony: How The Mommy Wars Have Reached New Heights Online And Today's Mom Simply Cannot Win and creator of The Mom Pledge, a movement to eradicate cyber bullying among moms.
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