By Emilie Le Beau, Special to the Tribune. "Banish the bully" sidebar by the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.
5 October 2004
Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.
You're so stupid. You're so ugly.
These mean messages were popping up every night on Alyssa A.'s instant messenger. Alyssa knew the sender, a boy from school.
"He found out my screen name and he'd scare me," says Alyssa, 14, of Wyckoff, N.J. "Every time I went online, I was worried he would go online and call me names."
After two weeks of being cyberbullied, Alyssa told her parents. They threatened to call the police, and the bully backed down. "He would not let off until my parents got involved," she says.
Computers are awesome for chatting with friends, but they're also an anonymous way for bullies to harass you. By sending mean e-mails or cruel IMs, kids can bully hours after the school bell has rung.
And with so many kids online, it's not hard for bullies to find someone to pick on.
Forty-two percent of kids say they've been bullied online, according to a survey by Internet safety group i-SAFE. Lots of kids can get mean behind the mouse too: 53 percent of kids surveyed by i-SAFE said they've typed hurtful or angry things online.
For Alyssa, being bullied online "was emotionally troubling." She says she stopped using the computer for months afterward.
Cyberbullying can be more than just a bunch of nasty e-mails. Alyssa says she's heard of kids using the Internet to blackmail others. "There have been cases in my school where kids have a picture of two people kissing at a party and they spread it to everyone on their buddy list," she says.
Online harassment isn't just between the bully and his or her victim. Bullies love an audience and are likely to tell other kids, says Nancy Mullin-Rindler, director of the Project on Teasing and Bullying at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.
"They aren't keeping this a secret, somebody else knows," Mullin-Rindler says. "Kids know who else knows--it's just a matter of doing a bit of investigative work."
Bullies who brag about their actions can embarrass you even more. Mullin-Rindler says bullying is about one kid feeling powerful over another. That means kids who are bullied should not feel responsible. "It's not up to them to stop it--they're the victims," she says.
And firing an insult back at the bully doesn't work. "The more you get into it with a cyberbully, the more they want to make you mad," Alyssa says. "I've always been one to fight back. Don't. Ignore it and tell your parents."
Skip peer mediation, too--because that's about compromising to end a conflict. The only person who needs to stop is the bully, Mullin-Rindler says. Telling parents or contacting the police are better ways to end bullying.
Kids also can e-mail the Teen Angels for help, Alyssa says. She and 149 other kids worldwide are part of a program through wiredsafety.org that helps kids with cyber safety. They train with the FBI and solve kids' scary cyber issues.
And scary cyber issues don't just involve bullies. Friendships gone sour also can spiral into online harassment.
Alyssa says she's heard of friendships ending and former pals using the Internet for revenge. Kids who know each other's e-mail or IM passwords will log on as their ex-friend and send threatening notes to other kids at school, she says.
Sometimes just chatting online can lead to fights and worse when jokes are misunderstood and taken as insults. Nolan B., 14, of Frankfurt says his friends like to joke through IM. But since you're not talking in person and can't see their expressions, misunderstandings occur, he says.
Nolan says this situation calls for a real chat. "Talk to them at school or call them on the phone," he says. "It's the tone of voice, they can tell when you're joking or serious."
Not being able to hear a person's tone of voice can make a cyber chat seem especially mean. "In real life, you can see and hear what the person is saying. Online, you can't. You read [insults] on the screen and you're, like, ow," Alyssa says.
Are you getting hassled online? Check out www.cyberbullying.ca for more info. And volunteers like the Teen Angels at www.wiredsafety.org can help kids put an end to cyberbullying.
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Banish the bully
Here are some tips for keeping bullies from cramping your cyber style:
- Guard your contact information. Don't give people you don't know your cell phone number, instant messaging name or e-mail address.
- If you are being harassed online, leave the area or stop the activity. Immediately tell an adult you trust.
- If you are being bullied through e-mail or instant messaging, block the sender's messages. Never reply to harassing messages.
- Save any harassing messages and forward them to your Internet Service Provider or e-mail provider (example: Hotmail or Yahoo). Most ISPs have policies that restrict users from harassing others over the Internet.
- If the bullying includes physical threats, notify police.
- Speak out whenever you see someone being mean to another person online.