I spoke at a school recently and talked about cyber bullying and how my organization, Working to Halt Online Abuse – Kids/Teen Division tries to give students options to find help if they are cyber bullied. There have been way too many media reports about kids and teens killing themselves because they were cyber bullied and no one knew about it (or ignored it).
I told the students the first thing they need to do is try to find an adult to talk to about the cyber bullying. Whether it’s a parent (but most won’t because they are afraid *they* will be punished if they tell their parents), a friend’s parent, someone at school, any adult.
The second option is to go to our web site, click on Need Help? on the main page, then follow the steps there. If they do end up filling out the questionnaire so that one of our advocates can help them, I stress that we keep them anonymous – we do NOT contact their parents, their school or the cyber bully. We help online victims from around the world and our services are free. We try to help resolve situations before they get out of control.
If they don’t feel comfortable with that, then they can go visit our celebrity spokesperson’s page – Uncle Jim. In his “real” life he is the bass player for the Jimmy Buffet band. In his downtime, he entertains younger kids with silly songs about being a good kid and student and even wrote a song for us called “Zip Your Lip” – which essentially tells kids and teens to make sure what they write online is what they would say to someone’s face. If not, then “zip your lip and don’t hit SEND.” He also stresses the three R’s – Recognize that it’s cyber bullying; Respond once to the cyber bully with a simple “Please stop contacting me,” then don’t respond after that, but do keep anything sent; Report the cyber bully to the web site, social media outlet, their Internet Service Provider, etc. Uncle Jim has an email address on our site where they can contact him.
The fourth option is to visit Phoebe the Cyber Crime Dog on our site. She’s a rescue sled dog my husband and I adopted four years ago. She is now a therapy dog and goes to schools with me when I speak to students. I have found that students tend to talk more when you have a dog around. It’s amazing the things they will tell me after one of my talks if Phoebe is there. During the cyber bullying part of my talk, she does tricks for the students and when I ask her “What do you say to cyber bullies?” she responds with a bark. The kids love her! She has her own Facebook profile and a lot of students make friends with her after my talk at their school. She has almost 3,000 friends worldwide! Many of the students will private message her with their cyber bullying problems and I am pretty sure they realize it’s me doing the typing, but Phoebe has helped them resolve their situation quickly. Phoebe also has a Twitter account!
The fifth option is a wonderful web site – schooltipline.com. They allow students to report bullying and cyber bullying anonymously, whether they are the victim or they know someone who is a victim. When I speak at schools, I encourage them to sign up on this site, if they haven’t already. It’s free, it’s anonymous and it can help curb bullying and cyber bullying in schools throughout the USA, although they hope to expand elsewhere in the world.
I tell students they now have five options to get help. I do not want to see their parents or their photo in the media because they killed themselves. They can get help and they are NOT alone. That is the biggest problem – these kids and teens feel so isolated when they are cyber bullied.
Many of them tell me they get nasty messages on Facebook or via text on their cell phones. I let them know they are not being rude by not only removing the messages from their Facebook timeline, but also to report and block that person. The same with the text messages – block the person so that they can’t text you or call you. Thankfully, if you own an iPhone and upgraded to ios7, they now offer a Block Caller feature. Many cell phone providers also offer ways to block certain numbers for a nominal cost each month. In the long run, it will be worth it if it protects your son or daughter from cyber bullies.
I also instruct students to keep copies of anything used to cyber bully them – screen shots of posts before they delete or remove them, any emails or texts, or if they are using apps such as Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, etc – take a screen shot and create a folder or file to put everything in. Then, if you have to come to my organization for help (which is free, by the way), or the police do have to get involved, you have all the evidence to prove what’s been going on.
In addition, I suggest they write a timeline – when the cyber bullying began, how it began and dates when things happened from there. Not only is that good to have as evidence, it also empowers the kid or teen as they write down what’s been happening. It validates their fears. They are NOT crazy, they are NOT imagining it. They are in their rights to do something about it.
I encourage students to step in if they know someone is being cyber bullied and offer help to the victim, whether it’s a shoulder to “cry on,” or to let them know to respond with “Please stop contacting me.” Stepping in can help boost a victm’s confidence, especially when they realize someone is supporting them.
The final outcome? Cyber bullying will decrease if everyone does their level best to confront it head on instead of sticking their heads in the sand and hoping it will all just go away. It won’t. If a cyber bully is harassing one person, they will harass others.
So, stand up for your rights and remember the three R’s:
RECOGNIZE that it is cyber bullying
REFUSE it by sending them one response: “Please stop contacting me.” Then don’t respond after that, but do keep anything else the cyber bully may send.
REPORT it to the cyber bully’s Internet Service Provider, web site, social media site or app, online game, or wherever the cyber bullying is happening. If you don’t know how to do that, we have information on our web site to help you.
Stay safe online!
WHO@-KTD – http://haltabusektd.org
Phoebe The Cyber Crime Dog – http://www.haltabusektd.org/phoebe/index.html
Uncle Jim (Jim Mayer) – http://www.haltabusektd.org/about/staff/unclejim.html
Cybersmart Australia – www.cybersmart.gov.au/
School Tipline – http://www.schooltipline.com
About the author:
J. A. Hitchcock is an author and cyber bullying and cyber crime expert. She volunteers with the U.S. DOJ Office for Victims of Crime, the National Center for Victims of Crime, and law enforcement agencies worldwide. She has worked tirelessly with legislators in the drafting and passing of many of this country’s Internet laws.
As president of WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse) at haltabuse.org and WHOA-KTD (Kids/Teens Division) at haltabusektd.org, J.A. continues a mission to educate adults and children in online safety.
J.A. conducts law enforcement training for local, county, state, military and federal agencies. Her speaking schedule on cyber crime and cyber bullying includes elementary/middle/high schools, universities and colleges. She also lectures at libraries, conferences, and corporations. She has been featured on Swift Justice, Americas Most Wanted, 48 Hours, Good Morning America, Cosmopolitan and TIME magazines, and local, national and international newscasts, and was selected by Lifetime TV as their “Champion For Change.
J.A.’s ninth book, True Crime Online: Shocking Stories of Scamming, Stalking, Murder and Mayhem is now available (truecrime-online.com). She is also on the editorial board of the International Journal of Cyber Crimes and Criminal Justice and a member of Operations Security Professionals Society, Sisters In Crime (national and New England), Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, National Rifle Association (Life Member), The American Legion, and 3rd Marine Division Association (Life Member).