I need your help as my friends are picking on me 24/7 and I don’t feel safe anywhere. They are saying stuff on Facebook, excluding me from school on-line groups, and leaving messages using my phone. I am beginning to feel numb and out of control. My parents say stay off-line and switch off my phone, but i know it’s still going on and I can’t help myself. What should I do?
Thank you for being brave enough to talk about cyberbullying. The content of your letter is so important that I want to write fully about this issue and offer ways to take back control of your life.
Firstly, what is cyberbullying? The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines it as: an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.
Let’s get this straight – I am not saying you cannot defend yourself Hattie; I am just giving a clear definition for people who may not have heard of this growing form of bullying. Kidscape say that one in four bullied children are being cyberbullied – this is a big thing and you are not alone in facing these issues.
The Internet is wonderful and it can play a positive part in your life – both for school and social life, and it is that engagement with the technology that makes it so difficult to get your head round what is happening. It is a double-edge sword as it both connects you to your friends and alienates you all at once. So let’s look at the options open to you for support from your school, your friends, your family and your cyberself.
Your school should have an anti-bullying policy and access to a counsellor. Look on your school website and it should have everything there for you to download and talk through with either your friends, parents or an adult you trust. If it is a member of staff you talk to, they may have a duty to disclose what you say and cannot, promise confidentiality, although they can limit who they tell.
If you feel you want to go that route, plan how you are going to do it. What are you going to say and what evidence have you got to substantiate your claims? Each school is different in how they deal with cyberbullying, so I would suggest visiting an on-line forum to hear other people’s experiences and find the best way for you. It may also be worth building up a diary of what is said, taking screen shots, emails, voicemails and the sender’s ID and the URL etc.
Friend are great as long as they aren’t part of the problem. Coldly assess your friends. Who will run back to the ringleader after being your confidant? If there is a friend whom you trust, talk about it – sharing will give you a clearer perspective on what you can do to sort it out and it’s easier to say ‘Enough’ if there is someone believing in you.
Families are a mixed blessing and may not know how to help. Your parents’ suggestions are sound in saying just turn off the computer; although this can feel like asking you to go cold turkey. Use the positiveness of their love and support to help you get perspective – don’t shut them out.
Let’s talk about your cyberself. How do you speak to people on-line? Do you feel able to lead by example in the way you talk on-line rather than using their taunting or bitchy comments made to you? Do you pass on cyberbullying videos or messages about other friends? Are you always respectful and tolerant of others’ views? Do you get a thrill out of a really searing put down to a friend? Look at your friendships – are they supportive or do they thrive on negative responses?
When cruel things are said on-line, you can’t see or hear the reactions and there is little chance to do anything about it or to feel any compassion. The culture becomes infected with nastiness and there are no balance and checks unless you draw the line as to what is and isn’t acceptable.
So turn it round and take control, change your responses to them, don’t talk with them if they start being malicious, block anyone who bad mouths you, change your user ID or profile.
Keep things private by changing the privacy setting on your accounts and keep your log-in secret. Hacking is illegal under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. This means someone hacking into your account, which includes: posting messages to the school’s VLE; sending instant messages or emails; or using someone‘s mobile phone to send abusive calls, texts or images. Consider talking to the police about it. Phones and texting are a fundamental part of youth culture in maintaining friendship groups and elastic parenting, so screen your calls or leave to voice mail if you are unsure of a number.
A photo or video posted on the Internet as a joke is out there and you have no control over it or its impact, so consider setting your photos to be seen only by either registered users or friends. Be compassionate. Rude images or conversations can be very embarrassing, causing fear and distress as to who will see them, especially family members. Decide carefully and respectfully on your uploads and Google yourself every so often to see your cyber profile – edit out what you don’t like!
You have demonstrated the ability and strength to change this situation Hattie, all bullies only have power when you give it to them by staying silent – find your voice and you will undoubtedly find who you are. Allow your confidence to grow with awareness of who you are and enjoy the positive social recognition by your peers as the one who stood up and said ‘Enough’.
Annie has worked with students for 12 years as both a Humanistic Counsellor and running a College Counselling and Welfare Service. She has a wide experience of supporting students and their parents/ guardians.
If you would like advice from Annie, email firstname.lastname@example.org