You’ve heard the stories about cyberbullying before. You may have even watched a Lifetime movie or seen it reported on the news. You downplay the idea of something like that ever happening, especially to Hollywood extremes, to you or one of your friends. You are careful about what you post, and you only share with your “friends”. You trust the people in your networks and believe they would never share your secrets. But one day you wake up and see a nasty rumor about you posted all over social media or your best friend is now walking around afraid of her own shadow because someone sent her a threatening text message. It sounds cliché but it’s real, and cyberbullying can happen to anyone.
Cyberbullying is defined as any bullying that takes place through electronic devices like iPads, computers, and cell phones, as well as social media platforms. Like “regular bullying,” cyberbullying can be extremely damaging to your mental and emotional health, and cause problems that last into adulthood. However, cyberbullying IS different and can feel different, too. Below are a few of the differences:
- Larger Audiences: Everyone in and out of your networks can see it. It isn’t just a single incident seen by a few bystanders –and it can reach millions of people in a matter of seconds.
- Harder to Delete: The black hole of the internet makes incriminating pictures, threatening messages, and everything else harder to delete. And in extreme cases these same things could be seen by potential colleges, employers, and maybe even someday your own children.
- Harder to Avoid: Home is no longer a safe retreat. That little device that we love so much and can’t live without can turn into your biggest enemy. Cyberbullies can attack anytime, day or night.
- No Accountability: Cyberbullying can be anonymous, so it’s not only hurtful, but you no longer know who is actually targeting you, making it harder to trace and even harder to punish.
THINK THIS IS HAPPENING TO YOU? So what do you do if you think you’re being victimized? How do you handle it if you find yourself in that situation? How do you talk about it without feeling bad about yourself? Or how do you bring it up to your parents without getting into trouble? As part of National Bullying Prevention Month, we here at Agora want to help answers those questions. Dealing with cyberbullying can be tough and because the goal of any bully is to make you feel alone and isolated, beginning a conversation about cyberbullying can feel like the hardest thing in the world. However, the first step in stopping cyberbullying is talking about it. Below are a few tips on how to start the conversation with a parent or other trusted adult:
- Approach someone you trust: The conversation about cyberbullying doesn’t necessarily have to be with your parents or even a family member. Talk to someone you trust and who can understand what you are going through. If you don’t want to talk to your parents go to a teacher, coach, or church leader. These adults have more experience and wisdom. And even if they have never been bullied or don’t have all the answers, they care about you and will be able to guide you through this tough time.
- Choose a good time: Pick a time when you know everyone involved is willing and able to devote the attention this topic deserves. If you know you mom leaves for work every day at 7, don’t try to talk to her at 6:55.
- Be honest: Tell your parents or other trusted adult the truth about the situation. Be clear about what is happening and give as many details as possible. Show them any messages, pictures, or websites even if you are afraid you might get in trouble. Your parents want to help you and are less likely to punish you if you are upfront about the situation and come to them with your problems first.
- Express your emotions: Talk to your parents or other adults about how the cyberbullying makes you feel. Every person is different and we react to situations differently. Open up about your fears and anxieties and continue talking until you feel better. Letting everything out will take a huge weight off your shoulders. Even if you feel like what you are saying isn’t making any sense, your parents will have a better understanding of what’s going on and what they can do to help you.
- Work together: You may have already shown your parents how to use their technology by now and so the same goes for cyberbullying. Depending on their generation, your parents or trusted adult may not be familiar with this type of bullying, some may even still view bullying as a part of growing up. Help educate your parents on the effects of cyberbullying and work together to find new ways to deal with and prevent it from happening.
- Stay connected: Communicate with your family or other adults, even if you aren’t being cyberbullied. Talk about your life, discuss who you hang out with, pick their brain about life in general. Creating a clear path for communication is a proven way to gain support and makes it easier to talk about a difficult situation or problem in the future.
BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING: Not sure if you are ready to talk about it or don’t know what to say, why not use one of these to get the conversation rolling:
- “Dad, can we talk? I’m having a problem online and I don’t know what to do about it.”
- “Mom, I got this message the other day. I don’t know who it’s from and it scared me a little bit, can you help me figure out what to do?”
- “Coach, I need to talk and it’s hard for me to talk to my parents about it. I don’t like what’s being said about me online.”
ONE LAST THOUGHT: Talking about cyberbullying with your parents or other family members isn’t the only thing you can do to protect yourself against cyberbullying. And because cyberbullying can happen anywhere, anytime, it’s important you know what to do if you find yourself in the middle of an attack. Below are a few tips to help you handle a cyberbullying situation:
- Block the user: Most sites give you the ability to block or restrict users. Also, make sure to set your social media pages to private, and don’t share your passwords with others.
- Record: Keep a record of any bullying you experience online. Print out pictures, screenshot text messages, or even take a picture of your computer screen. Show these files to your parents or even the authorities if needed.
- Ignore: Bullies feed off of their victims responses. If you ignore their actions, they are more likely to move on. It may not always be easy, but never respond to a bully’s messages, no matter what they may be saying about you.
- Report: After a certain point, it’s time to talk to your family or other trusted adult. It may not be easy but follow the tips from above to get started. Also, ask for help reporting cyberbullying to social media administrators. Most of these sites have rules of use policies that prohibit any kind of harassment through their sites
- Whether or not you’ve been involved in a cyberbullying incident or have bullied someone online yourself, it’s important to remember that no one deserves to be treated poorly. Everyone is different but we all deserve respect. At Agora, our community is centered on innovative technology and using that technology to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for our students. As a way to make that goal a reality we have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying or cyberbullying of any kind. Check out the graphics below for information on our Acceptable Use of Technology policy in place at Agora.
If you are a student and know someone is being cyberbullied, our Guidance Counselors are here to help so check out their page at www.agorahscounselors.weebly.com.