The middle and high school years often cause kids to put a lot of importance on fitting in with their peer groups. They begin to explore their identities, try on beliefs and clothing styles, and listen to music that makes their parents cringe, all in the name of discovering themselves alongside their friends and classmates. This can leave them especially vulnerable to abuse from cyberbullying if they’re unaware of how to deal with it.
Cyberbullies want nothing more than to destroy the beauty and enjoyment of this natural phase of development. They do their best to cause their victims to feel ashamed, embarrassed, ostracized, unwanted, weird, and unloved. It’s unfortunately no surprise that serious cases of cyberbullying have lead to suicide.
The iSafe Foundation reports that half of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying online, a percentage that continues to grow larger as our children become even more connected to their peers via apps, social networks, and online forums. Many adults know better than to feed the trolls that roam the internet in search of negative attention and easy targets, but what about our children? How can we teach them to combat the real threat of cyberbullying? Below is a handy list of guidelines for you to share with your child!
Don’t feed the troll.
Do not respond to any nasty comments, texts, or emails. This is very hard to do, but bullies generally feed off of your emotional reactions. They’re expecting (hoping) that you’ll get upset; this gives them encouragement and a sense of power over you, and will likely only escalate the situation to an even nastier level. If you choose to ignore them, they’ll more than likely get bored and leave you alone.
On the other side of it, don’t forward, send, or like cruel messages meant for others. This not only encourages the bullying, it also hurts the victim even more. Don’t let peer pressure turn you into a cyberbully yourself or aid someone else in it. If you don’t understand the impact this could have, try this exercise from The CyberSmile Foundation: Damage a piece of paper without ripping it – wad it up, step on it, kick it around – then attempt to apologize to it and flatten out the creases; no matter how you try, the paper remains damaged and dirty. This is the same metaphorical effect that cyberbullying has on a person.
Record & collect evidence.
You might not want to remember the hurtful things a cyberbully has said about or to you, but it’s important that you keep detailed records of each and every time the abuse occurs. Save copies of conversations, comments, and emails, and include the date and time when it happened. Learn how to take screenshots on your computer and phone so that comments via apps, texts, and gaming can be more easily recorded. It’s a great idea to print everything out and share it with a trustworthy adult who might be able to help you.
In extreme cases, this will also help you keep track of a trail of evidence if the local authorities need to step in and get involved.
Let someone know & ask for help.
Letting your parents, favorite teacher, principal or counselor, and if necessary, the police in on what is happening can go the extra mile in protecting yourself against cyberbullying. You may not realize it, but your state laws or school policy may even have rules that will help you take your bully down the right way.
Bullies rely on you keeping quiet out of fear or shame; break the stereotype and speak up! Don’t be afraid that your voice will be unheard. If you tell an adult and they brush it off, keep telling people until someone steps in to help you. Show them the hard copies of whatever happened to you online that made you scared or sad. You are not to blame, and you do not have to deal with it on your own.
In addition, you should keep your parents or most trusted adults in the loop about what you’re doing online. Let them friend or follow you. It might feel awkward or embarrassing since you’re no doubt pulling away and doing your own thing, but they care about you and want to keep you safe! Let them be there to support you whenever you’re feeling upset or hurt.
Cut the bully off.
The National Crime Prevention Council strongly advises that you stop any communication with your bully as soon as possible. This means blocking their phone number, email address, or account, even if it means getting your parents to contact your internet service provider, cellphone service provider, or the website administrator for you. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube – hot spots for cyberbullying – already have procedures in place to report harassment.
If this isn’t possible and you’re unable to escape it, consider changing phone numbers, creating another email address, or setting up a new account. You can also screen calls and delete their messages without ever opening them. Again, the goal is to “starve the troll!”
If the threats are still spiraling out of control, immediately contact the local authorities; there are laws in place to help you!
That’s “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome,” a phrase coined by YouTube VlogBrothers Hank and John Green who helped empower a large, diverse community of people who “instead of being made of bones and skin and tissue [are] made entirely of awesome.” The idea behind this simple phrase is that you shouldn’t bother listening to the haters out there who are doing their best to destroy your self-esteem.
Allow me to let you in on a little secret that most people don’t unlock until it’s too late: being yourself is absolutely the COOLEST thing you can possibly do! Own who you are, even if it seems a little strange, because that’s what makes you an awesome person. You will always find friends who are just your special brand of weird. And people will like you just because positive confidence itself is not only contagious, but super attractive!
This is obviously easier said than done. Sometimes people just know what to say to get under your skin, and cyberbullies are even better at it than most. But try to remember that the destructive behavior of bullies says far more about their own issues, fears, and insecurities than it does about you. The #1 way to combat cyberbullying is to feel and be awesome anyway!
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