NOTE: This lesson covers how to respond to someone who is being mean to you. If, after working through the lesson with your students, you discern that any of them are in a situation that involves cyberbullying rather than just the occasional mean comment, explore the resources available at https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/ if you aren’t sure how to handle it.
- What’s a troll? (We’re looking for the definition of an Internet As your students may already know, a troll is “a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet . . . by posting inflammatory . . . messages in an online community” [Wikipedia].)
- Have you ever run into a troll who said mean things about you online? (Sadly, many young Internet users have had this experience. Let your students share briefly about their encounters with trolls.)
- How did you respond to the troll? (Encourage students to answer honestly, whether their responses were commendable or not.)
Mean comments are a fact of Internet life. One study found that “40% of Internet users [are] victims of online harassment” (NIH). That means that if you take any ten people from our church, four of them have been trolled. And I’m guessing the number is even higher for middle schoolers.
We can’t stop others from being mean, but there are ways to handle it wisely.
- How do you think middle schoolers should handle online trolls? (Students may have heard the advice “Don’t feed the trolls”—in other words, ignore nasty comments instead of responding to them. It’s also wise to block a troll from posting on your social media account, and to report the person to the website where the troll is spreading nastiness. If a student has an ongoing problem with the same person or group of people, it has probably evolved into bullying and is time to get an adult involved.)
When someone is mean to us, our first response is often to say something mean right back. In other words, we want to fight trolling with trolling! But you already know that isn’t the Christian response.
- If the Internet had existed at the time of Jesus, how do you think He would have responded to trolls? (While Jesus didn’t have a smartphone, He endured plenty of “offline trolling.” He could even tell what people were thinking about Him! He always demonstrated love for His critics, even when they said or thought hateful or untrue things about Him.)
It’s not easy to respond to mean people with love, whether they’re trolling online or in real life. But Jesus taught us how. Let’s learn more about how to love a troll.
Anyone Can Become a Troll: Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions