R.M. is a cheerful 14 year old teenager who stays with her parents in Mumbai. She likes science and finds history very boring. She loves watching movies and spending time with her friends. She sounds just like you or someone you might know, doesn’t she? Just like you, she has a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…you name it! And just like you, she can’t wait to get home from class and come online to update her status; chat with her friends or post a comment about something funny that happened at school.
Since the past week however, she has been behaving differently.
Last week, when she got home from school and signed into Facebook, a classmate had commented something in jest on her picture. It was funny at first, but then the comments got mean, and extremely hurtful. The same person from her class, then started posting mean status updates and sending her unkind messages.
She didn’t know what to do or how to make it stop. So, she hasn’t gone to school for most days of the week saying she’s feeling unwell. She’s been withdrawn and her parents can’t understand what happened. She has been avoiding messages from her friends. She feels hurt, scared and even a little angry. Wouldn’t you feel the same way?
Is R.M. being Cyber bullied? What does that mean?
This is known as “Cyberbullying” or “Internet Bullying”. It is when someone uses emails, chat, social networking sites to send or post text/images intended to hurt, embarrass or intimidate another person.
It might be motivated by anger, revenge or frustration. However, most often, it starts out as an innocent prank and escalates into something serious. Some do it for laughs or to get a reaction.
You might have gone through something like this or seen a friend go through it. What would you do? You don’t know if telling the school authorities would help and you don’t know how to tell your parents. Don’t lose heart; most adolescents don’t know what they can do here. You don’t have to go through this feeling like you can’t do something about it because you can.
So, What can you do if you are being Cyber bullied?
Recognize that you are being bullied
Sometimes, we convince ourselves that being bullied is not a “big deal” or that if we bear with it, it will just go away. Even though we end up feeling helpless and targeted, we tend to shut these emotions out. It is important to realize that bullying is not “okay” and there is no reason ever for you to put up with it.
Stand up for yourself
Most adolescents think it would be “uncool” to stand up to peers. You feel that you might come across as too sensitive or too uptight. However, think about this: you are feeling upset, you feel anxious and you can’t concentrate in class or home. Take a step to change that. Let yourself be heard.
There may not always be a reason for cyberbullying, or one that is straightforward. Sometimes, people lash out at others due to their own insecurities and it is even possible that the person who is bullying you isn’t aware of how this is affecting you. If it seems possible to have a discussion with this person, consider asking him or her to stop. Try and have this conversation in person, not through email or text.
Talk to a friend
Standing up to a bully. It sounds easier said than done, doesn’t it? The thought of discussing or confronting this situation can be scary. You can confide in a friend. Talk to them; let them know what you are going through and how that is making you feel. Your friend can help you decide what you can do or support you when you stand up for yourself.
Even if you don’t know the source of the bullying, sharing your feelings with your friend will make you feel lighter. Knowing that your friend is there for you, even if it is just to provide a listening ear, will make you feel less alone.
Create stricter internet privacy and report the matter
There are some simple, practical steps that you can take to prevent further incidents of cyberbullying. You can block the bully. Most email browsers, social networking sites and mobile phones have settings that allow you to electronically block emails, chats or text messages from specific people. You can change your settings on Facebook or Twitter, to have a limited profile. That means, you can select who views your profile.
The advantage with the internet is that you can save the evidence of the cyberbullying. You can report this matter to the any of the internet authorities of the websites that are being used to bully you.
Talk to an adult
Most teenagers wouldn’t want to turn to their parents for help. You probably feel that they won’t understand and might restrict your use of the internet. However, cyberbullying can be very invasive and can affect other areas of your daily life, as well. All of this can be very overwhelming. If you feel unsafe or helpless and don’t know how to handle this by yourself, don’t be afraid to turn to someone older for help. If you are receiving threatening or hateful messages, legal action can also be taken. Talking to a trusted adult will help you feel more safe and supported. The adult would also be able to guide you as to what action can be taken. Remember, that when things get tough, your parents, teachers or school/college counselors are in a position to address this problem and stand by you.
Ignore the bullying
Sometimes, you cannot make the bullying stop. Bullies can be relentless. However, even though you can’t change the situation, you can change your reaction to it. People who bully want to elicit a reaction from you. Ignore the messages, texts or comments.
It is tough to ignore the mean things that someone is saying about you. What is important to remember here is that it is not your fault. Do not blame yourself or dwell over the messages by re-reading them. No matter what somebody else says or does, you should not be ashamed of who you are or what you feel.
Do not retaliate
Some of us feel angry and want to reply immediately. Do not lose your cool. It will not help to send a threatening message out of anger or frustration. This will only further provoke the bully and start a chain reaction that might get you into trouble, as well.
It is important to express your emotions and opinions; however, using the same language and methods as the bully is more likely to make things worse than better.
It is tempting and seems easier to just hope and wait for the bullying to stop. However, don’t let others’ teasing and name-calling define who you are and how you feel about yourself. The bully, even though he/she seems powerful, is not the “cool” one. You are. You are cool for wanting to change the situation and for wanting to speak up for yourself. It takes courage to do that. There will be others who will support you and help you overcome this situation. So, take that first step to standing up for yourself.
If you know of anybody who would benefit by reading this article, do share it with them. Let us know through comments if you have any suggestions about cyberbullying that would benefit other readers.
Image Credit: Spree2010
Post contributed by: Anusha Manjani
Anusha is a Clinical Psychologist and she worked with children and adolescents at Inner Space, from 2013 to 2015.