Reader dilemma: 'My 10 year-old child made a bad joke on Twitter, and the reaction has left her unable to cope'

"The first thing is to encourage her to stop using Twitter temporarily. When I’ve received a cruel letter, I haven’t kept it to mull over. Every time you reread cruel remarks aimed at you, you are traumatising yourself once again."

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dear Virginia,

My daughter, who is 10, made a stupid joke on Twitter the other day and now she’s very upset because lots of people at school have been tweeting back saying she’s stupid and even worse. She’s apologised for it, but it doesn’t make any difference. I’ve told her just to ignore it but she says she can’t and she’s crying all the time and won’t eat. I’m so anxious about her. I keep reading of children who have killed themselves when they’re attacked like this, and obviously this is worrying. How can I help?  

Yours sincerely, Mandy

Virginia says

You’re right to be worried – though not, perhaps, as worried as you find yourself. The first thing, surely, is to encourage your daughter to stop her Twitter account. Just give it a rest for a month so that things have time to die down. And it will also mean that your daughter won’t be able to log in and read more horrible remarks, or reread the past ones.

On the odd occasion when I’ve received a cruel letter, I haven’t kept it, to mull over. I’ve chucked it straight in the bin. Every time you reread cruel remarks aimed at you, you are traumatising yourself once again. It’s like accidently cutting yourself on a knife and then recreating the pain by deliberately cutting yourself just to remember what it was like.

Then, I really would tell her teacher – presumably these unkind remarks are made mainly by peers at school, unless the tweet has spread further afield. 

And then explain that Twitter sets in stone passing remarks that usually flit through people’s heads. For instance, after a phone call from a friend, which I thought was bit high-handed, I might put the receiver down with the words, to myself: “Who the f*** does she think she is?” I’d never say that face to face.

Remind your daughter of the many times she’s come back from school and said nasty things about other people – she might have described her teacher as a nightmare, or her friend as an idiot. No doubt she occasionally says things behind your back that she wouldn’t like you to overhear – such as “Interfering old cow!” The problem with Twitter is that people turn these trivial thoughts into print. They don’t have the imagination to realise how hurtful it would be for the person concerned. Anyway, more often than not, they’re getting rid of their own rage about something that has nothing to do with what the person wrote – writing things on Twitter can often be the equivalent of kicking the cat.

Another way to help your daughter – which is useful for other painful situations, too – is to encourage her to put her worries on some kind of internal mental shelf, to look at later. Tell her to make a specific worrying time – between 4pm and 4.30pm, for instance. Then she can worry and cry all she likes. It’s quite a useful technique.

I was told once that something I’d written here had caused immense ripples on Twitter. As I never saw them, I never lost a moment’s sleep. A while ago, I had a storm of emails from all over the world telling me I should have been murdered at birth. But, incredibly upsetting as it was at the time, it all blew over. The mob soon got baying over some other poor wretch.

Support her as much as you can, and try to help her pity those sad people who have nothing better to do than to vent their anger often on total strangers.

Readers say...

Offer love and distractions

The important thing now is to keep communicating with your daughter – don’t let her mope in her room. Keep her engaged – cook food she likes, get her to help, keep her busy and distracted from getting a tweet out of proportion. She’s learnt her lesson so it’s time to move on. What does she like doing? Take her out for a pizza, to get her nails done, go to a theme park as a family or just have a girly day out. Watch DVDs and TV together. If you don’t get a response, keep going; all 10-year-olds will respond to love and caring from those closest to them.

Anna Taylor

Sunbury

She should rise above it

Your daughter is not stupid; those that waste time on Twitter clearly are. I tweeted and the instant I had done it, I realised the sheer futility of it. So I don’t look at Twitter, but every day I receive three emails telling me I might be intetested in the garbage some celebrity has written. There is no escape. Tell your daughter to remember the saying: “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Malcolm Howard

Banstead, Surrey

Contact her school

As someone who has experienced first-hand what ripples an online social faux-pas can create, I have some understanding of what your daughter is going through. When I found out that my comment had been passed around teachers, I was dreading going back to school. What your daughter faces sounds like absolute hell. 

Do her teachers know? Either she could tell a member of staff, or you could write a letter if she fears that more shame would follow. Alternatively, you could send the letter to the headteacher directly and see what happens. If they choose/have chosen to do nothing, try to appeal to them that we often don’t see what consequences can unfold online until they are already unfolding.

As a further note, I would also ask someone to raise the idea of an assembly dedicated to these kinds of online actions, where jokes and comments that seem funny at the time can take dramatic turns for the worse. Finally, this may seem obvious but keep trying to reassure your daughter that this will most likely all blow over soon, and everyone will forget about it.

David Everard

by email

Next week's dilemma

I have a friend who I’ve known for a long time. She’s never allowed me to get really close, but we go back a long way and I see her about once every three months or so. But about six months ago, she discovered that her husband was having an affair and she rang me in floods of tears. I rushed round and consoled her, and she seemed very grateful for my support. But since then I’ve been almost shut out. I don’t get replies to emails, and can’t make a date to meet. I know I was a help to her – but what has happened to our friendship? Why is she behaving like this?

Yours sincerely,

Nancy

What would you advise Nancy to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to dilemmas@independent.co.uk

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