Videos, pictures and stories are everywhere on the Internet. They greet us each time we log in and keep coming until we log out. Each presents an opportunity for our children to laugh at someone.
Ellen DeGeneres said, "Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else's expense. And I find that that's just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else's feelings."
How easy it then becomes to transition from laughing at an anonymous stranger on a screen to laughing at others doing the same things and potentially hurting their feelings.
So teaching our children the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at someone becomes a life-altering lesson. It doesn't need to embarrass or humiliate them, just make them think and question.
The questions are pretty simple.
Did they share?
If the person shared the video/photo/post themselves, chances are they don't mind you laughing because they are laughing themselves. You are sharing the laugh at the blunder because it is part of the silliness that happens to all humans. If, however, someone else shared it, there is a distinct possibility that the person either doesn't know or would be embarrassed by the share. In this case, to laugh might be to laugh at, which compounds the embarrassment.
Are they laughing?
If the person is laughing about their situation, (as this article illustrates) it can be considered an invitation to laugh with them. Just pay attention for clues that the laughter is becoming hurtful and follow their lead. Often, someone will laugh at their situation, but if the laughter goes on too long or becomes too loud, it can turn to mocking in their mind.
How would you feel?
If the same thing were to happen to you, how would you feel about others laughing? Would you laugh at yourself?
Is this different from bullying?
If you laugh at someone, is it really any different from outright bullying them? The results are likely going to be the same. Hurt feelings, shame, humiliation. Feelings should always come before your own pleasure at someone's expense.
Can you turn the situation around?
Sometimes pointing out that you have experienced the same thing can help someone laugh at themselves and not be ashamed or embarrassed.
Watch what your kids view on their devices and help them differentiate between laughing at and laughing with. "People of Wal-Mart" is a good example of laughing at because most of those people have no idea they were having their picture taken, posted, mocked and laughed at. Self-posts sharing silly mistakes or mishaps are great examples of laughing with. They are an invitation to share in the human condition. The distinction becomes more important as they develop character. It will help them stand up for goodness and righteousness in the future.