Are people getting ruder? Um, yeah. (To use a rude retort.)
People can be so rude, in fact, that we decided to publish a whole story in Parents on this topic: "Rude Nation," by Nicole Zeman, in our February issue. Rude behavior was one of those subjects that really got our staff going when it came up in meetings. Everyone, it seemed, had a story to share. Blown-off birthday parties. Outbursts on Facebook. Parents who seemed more than happy to go AWOL at the playground while their kids wreaked havoc.
Of course, rude behavior is nothing new. But parents seem to feel we've reached a new high, or, well, low. These were some of the findings from research referenced in our article, the fall 2014 Civility in America survey:
93 percent of 1,000 Americans agree incivility is a problem in our culture.
70 percent believe rudeness is worse compared with just a few years ago.
70 percent think the Internet encourages impolite behavior.
That last statistic hits upon something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I wonder how it's possible to raise a generation of thoughtful, kind, think-before-you-speak kids, when we have so many adults spewing hateful, derogatory comments online. Healthy, spirited, civil debate is one thing. And then there's some "in-between" rudeness that's in the so-bad-it's-good category (ever see Jimmy Kimmel's "celebrities read mean tweets about themselves?"). But then, there's just the downright despicable, with some of the worst behavior happening on parenting message boards or blog posts (of all places!). Sure, if someone's posting a provocative point of view on a touchy parenting topic, they may be picking for a fight, or at least shouldn't be surprised if a brouhaha ensues. However, I suspect some always-the-contrarian commenters are just hungry for attention—you know the type—and are best ignored so they can be free to move along to their next target. For proof of how insane our world has become, though, that absolutely anything can inspire Internet vitriol, check out the downward spiral in the comments section on this post about a...rainbow cake recipe. Finally, if you really want to hurt your eyes, go to YouTube—that's where one study found the meanest commentary on the web thrives.
What's going on with people? "The Internet gives us distance; people act as if it's just a virtual space where everyone has multiple lives and there are no real consequences," says Angel Kalafatis, an Evans, Georgia mom of three quoted in our story.
But according to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research cited in our article, how much and what we share on Facebook—even positive updates about our lives—affects how we treat people offline, too, and not always in the best way. It appears having a close network of friends with whom you share updates regularly can create something called a "licensing" effect, according to the study author, Andrew T. Stephen, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. "The positive feedback you get from a tight-knit group on Facebook boosts your ego and leaves you feeling good about yourself and your life. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to 'cut yourself some slack' and devote fewer resources to self-monitoring and regulation." That made me pause: Is it possible that Facebook and Instagram, where I see only the "likes" and love in comments on my (mostly) positive posts, has made me sort of clueless and less respectful toward others in "real" life? Yikes.
Social-media-fueled bravado might also help explain how two people I know, friends, got into a heated political debate on Facebook that got ugly, really ugly. What started as a disagreement about our POTUS turned into a grenade-fest of deeply personal insults. Would these two friends have ever sharpened their knives for the kill if they were having a political discussion around a table? I'm sure you, too, see things all the time on Facebook that you could never imagine saying to someone in person.
Just thinking here: Maybe that's a guideline we could all heed more in our lives, both online and off?
If you wouldn't say it to her face, don't say it at all.
It's a start.
Gail O'Connor is a senior editor at Parents and mom of three. You can follow her on Twitter @gailwrites.