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Victim of Cyberbullying? Here’s What You Need to Know

A guide for students and parents

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that uses technology such as smartphones, computers, websites and apps to send mean, unwanted messages, spread rumors or damage someone’s reputation. It can happen to anyone, and the bully might even act anonymously. If you’re being cyberbullied, follow these steps:

Don’t respond
We know it’s easier said than done, but the first thing to do if you’re cyberbullied is to ignore and block the bully. Sometimes the bullies are encouraged by seeing a reaction. Violent or physical threats should, however, be taken seriously. If you’re worried about your safety, tell an adult immediately.

Don’t retaliate
Do not sink to the bully’s level and become a cyberbully yourself. By responding negatively, you could make the situation worse or get into trouble yourself, even if the other person started it. Most schools and states have rules and laws against bullying of any kind.

Save the evidence
Save messages on your phone, take screenshots of bullying on websites, keep a record of everything you receive. When you tell an adult, he or she might be able to use the information to verify the bully’s identity (if you don’t already know who he or she is), and can use the saved messages as proof to other parents, school officials or police to ensure that the appropriate actions are taken to stop the bullying.

Talk to a trusted adult
Your parents, older sibling, family member, favorite teacher, school counselor and police officers all can help you deal with cyberbullying. Be honest with them about what’s happening. These people care for you, and will want to help you stop the bullying quickly and safely.

Block the bully
Stop all communication with the cyberbully. Block his or her phone number or block the person on social networking sites so he or she can no longer interact with you. If, for some reason, it’s not possible to block the cyberbully, tell an adult. They can help you stop the bullying and assist you in setting up new accounts or a new phone number to ensure only people you trust contact you.

Report it
Most websites, applications, phone and email providers take it seriously when people use their platforms to post cruel or mean things, or create fake accounts. If users report abuse, the site administrator might block the bully from using the site in the future.

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Be a friend, not a bystander
What is a bystander? A bystander is someone who sees something bad happen to another person, but chooses to stay on the “outside” of the situation. If you know someone is being bullied and you do nothing to stop it, it’s possible something worse can happen. Cyberbullying can cause severe anxiety, depression, anger and frustration. It can lead the victim to self-harm or other violent reactions.

If you know someone is being cyberbullied, it’s important to take action. Research shows that showing your support for the victim can help stop bullying incidents. What can you do?

+ Stand up for the victim by posting positive words of support
+ Reach out to the victim and encourage them to seek help
+ Alert an adult about the situation
+ Report the abuse on websites and apps

You can’t fight fire with fire, so never retaliate in a negative way by putting down the bully or resorting to physical threats. Often times, the bully has his or her own insecurities and negative reactions will only make them more aggressive. If you’re afraid of being a target yourself, talk to a trusted adult. You should never step in to protect a bullied victim if you might put your safety at risk. By seeking help, you’re taking the right steps to stop cyberbullying.

Emotional Support
Being cyberbullied can leave you feeling vulnerable, angry, anxious, depressed—a wide range of intense emotions that you might not understand or know how to handle. If you feel this way, talk to a friend, family member, teacher, counselor or doctor for emotional support. There are also a number of free services available for people who are seeking help, support and information:

Hotlines and Support

Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
+ www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
+ General Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

24/7 Crisis Support
+ www.crisiscallcenter.org
+ General Hotline: 775-784-8090
+ Text ANSWER to 839863

Crisis Text Line
+ www.crisistextline.org
+ Text HOME to 741741

You Matter
+ www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

You Matter Blog
+ www.youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Stop Bullying
+ www.stopbullying.gov

What parents should know
In today’s world, face-to-face conversations are becoming a thing of the past. If they’re using a cell phone, iPod, computer or tablet, your kids are likely in constant contact with their friends and classmates via some type of app, website or social network. But just as digital communication has changed the way kids interact with one another, it’s also brought about a change in the way kids bully. Cyberbullying is a very real, very serious issue that’s affecting our kids today.

Preventing and minimizing cyberbullying
Set clear expectations and guidelines for what you consider responsible online behavior. Explain why it’s important for you to know what apps and websites they’re using and who they are talking to on their devices and online. Let your child know that you respect his or her privacy, but safety is your main concern and you might review his or her emails, text messages and social media sites if you suspect there’s something wrong.

Talk to your kids about cyberbullying. Encourage your child to come to you if he or she receives harassing or disturbing messages, images or videos on the internet or on their phone. Let them know that their technology privileges will not be taken away if he or she confides in you about being bullied. Explain, though, that cyberbullying will not be tolerated and there will be consequences should you discover that he or she has been treating others poorly.

Monitor your child’s online activities and technology. Keep computers and other internet-capable devices in a common area, not in a kid’s bedroom. You might consider installing parental control software as well, but it should not be your only option. Having open and honest communication with your children is still the best approach.

Warning signs that your child is being cyberbullied
Unfortunately, we can’t protect our kids from everything. Even if you take the necessary steps to prevent cyberbullying, your child can still be a victim. You may notice he or she is acting differently and you might not be able to determine why. Open communication with your child is crucial, but you can also observe the following behaviors in your child that might indicate they are a victim of cyberbullying:

+ Appears emotionally upset during or after using the internet or electronic devices
+ Changes in mood, sleep, behavior at home and school, or appetite
+ Abruptly stops using the computer or displays an acute increase in usage
+ Acts secretive or protective of devices or digital life
+ Avoids discussing online activities or technology use with you
+ Becomes abnormally withdrawn from friends and family
+ Avoids going to school or social events

My kid is being cyberbullied. What can I do?
Victims of cyberbullying are vulnerable, so it’s important to respond without judgment or blame. It’s likely your child will hesitate to talk about the situation because he or she might be afraid you’ll react by restricting online access.

Gently ask questions to understand what’s happening, without placing blame or attempting to solve the issues. Instead, acknowledge your child’s pain and remind him or her how much you love them. It’s important to make your child feel safe and accepted.

The best advice you can give your child when negative, hurtful or harmful messages are received, is to ignore them. Better yet, block the number or account they’re coming from after saving the messages or photos as evidence. Once you’ve gathered the facts and any physical proof of cyberbullying, assess the situation.

Consider contacting the bully’s parents, report it to the school, or contact police if the cyberbullying is severe (threats of violence, harassment or hate crimes, child pornography, etc.). Use your best judgment and approach the situation with caution. 

Finally, determine how the bullying has affected your child. Therapy or counseling can help him or her learn to handle the emotions involved with cyberbullying and can also help to reinforce the appropriate steps your child should remember to take if the bullying continues.

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