Internet Safety for Teens

How active are you on MySpace? Not anymore?

How about Facebook and Twitter? Or other networks where you can meet like-minded people?

Do you have a blog? We hear Tumblr is rather entertaining.

…We won’t ask if you have a mobile phone or not; that would seem rather silly.

But we might ask you about that mobile data plan. Are you online all day long? At home, at school, and on that family gathering where the aunt kept rambling forever; sure, staying online is what kept you sane through that dinner.

Not being on some social network isn’t even an option anymore. And if you’re on a reasonable mobile plan, not taking advantage of unlimited texting sounds bizarre.

We’re aware of this, and it’s cool. You’re making use of what the world offers to stay connected with your friends, classmates, and family. You might even be using it to talk to that person who added you a few weeks ago with whom you have a few common friends. Have you ever met them? Maybe, maybe not.

But have you come across a situation in which a classmate’s status message made it to the top of your newsfeed because of the tens of negative comments bashing them? Have you been in a situation in which someone you know, or don’t know, kept texting you with mean or harsh stuff for no reason?

Unlike the mean attitude of schoolyard bullies who steal lunch money or annoy you in class, being attacked online has nothing to do with your looks, how popular you are, or who you sit with during lunch. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, and the easier access to technology has become, the more people fall victim to online bullying, or what we can call cyberbullying.

Introduction To Teenage Bullying: So what is cyberbullying?

A fifteen year old girl from England told her own trip through cyberbullying. One day, she received a Facebook friend request from a good-looking guy, and they started messaging each other. Bit by bit, she started to have strong feelings for him; after all, he was nice, understanding, and she had a lot of fun talking to him every day. She wasn’t in love yet, but it evolved into a sweet relationship, for three months. However, she once saw a romantic post on his Facebook page by another girl, and got a little jealous. “What is this about?” she needed an answer.

What followed was unpredictable. She received messages from people who claimed to be his relatives, telling her the _80802797_cyberbullyinghorrifying news: her boyfriend had taken a lethal cocktail of alcohol and drugs and killed himself after she had accused him of being unfaithful. A Facebook tribute page for the boy was created, with over two thousand people joining in. The poor girl started receiving threatening calls, texts and Facebook messages, accusing her of driving him to suicide.

“You need to sit down, there is no dead boy”, said the police.

That was a surprise. At first, the mother thought her daughter was a victim to pedophilia, but the girl explained that she had met her boyfriend, or so she thought. She was introduced one night after drinking with friends at a park to the boy. He looked a lot like the Facebook profile picture. They kissed, and she went home delighted.

But he was imaginary. The boy never existed. Instead, two sixteen year olds were behind that Facebook account, and they were the ones who invented every detail of the hoax, as a means of revenge, because the girl had been going out with one of the bullies’ ex-boyfriends. When no reports of sudden deaths were found, the girls were arrested and made to apologize for causing harm to the victim who was fooled to think she was in a relationship for three months.

It sounds rather horrible, no? That’s one serious, but not extreme, example of what cyberbullying is like. In other words, cyberbullying, or online bullying, happens when a fellow teenager, who could be a classmate, a friend, a former friend, a neighbor, or pretty much anyone you know, or don’t know, uses technology to hurt or embarrass someone else. This technology could be anything that allows communication, whether it is the Internet or a mobile phone, and could be used to send or post text, images or videos that are intentionally mean.

Introduction To Teenage Bullying: Who is the cyberbully?

A cyberbully can be pretty much anyone, no matter how innocent looking. More often than not, they don’t fit the insane sociopath stereotypical image films give us about online harassers. In fact, some cyberbullying victims regularly switch from the victim to the bully role, and vice versa. It not uncommon to find cyberbullying victims tending to defend themselves the very same way they are attacked!

Introduction To Teenage Bullying: How can someone cyberbully someone else?

The ways are countless!

  • Some pretend they are other people online and trick people into believing their fake identities
  • Some trick people into revealing very personal information
  • Others send or forward mean texts or messages on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that includes simple name-calling
  • Or ask people mean questions like “Why are you so fat?” on a website like Ask.fm or Formspring.com
  • Or spread lies and rumors to make the person they’re bullying look bad
  • What can circulate the internet rather scarily is posting embarrassing pictures of people without their consent or approval.
  • It’s even worse when it’s a video posted on YouTube! Can you imagine how fast “views” on videos go up?

How lightly and casually we take the Internet can lead to big mistakes we might regret later. While we might not realize it, we might bully or harass someone unintentionally, or we might think it’s a joke. Sometimes, if you don’t add the “:P” emoticon or end a sentence with “jk”, a comment you make on someone’s profile picture might sound mean or nasty, because you don’t have eye contact, voice tone or body language to show that you’re joking or poking fun. We understand what we say or what is said to us based on how the words appear to us. We don’t know how someone else might misunderstand our intentions. Sometimes, the words are taken out of context or misplaced, to say something that could hurt someone else.

…usually, a cyberbully is motivated by frustration or anger

Introduction To Teenage Bullying: Does it really hurt?

Yes, it does. It’s true that you cannot punch someone right through their screen, but cyberbullying can actually be more harmful. You might not see the bruises, but they leave deeper scars.

The fact that this harassment happens online or through mobile phones makes it easy to reach the victim. While home used to be the place we seek refuge from the outer world where school bullying happens, cyberbullying penetrates the brick walls of home and into our hearts. It also happens 24/7; even when the victim chooses not to see it, they could wake up the next morning to find a flood of mean messages and shared pictures about them. Apart from feeling majorly hurt, this could lead to feeling frustrated, angry, and possibly threatened. Here are a few other possible impacts:

  • A drop in grades
  • Low self-esteem
  • A depressed attitude
  • Withdrawal from friends, and not wanting to hang out with them
  • Not wanting to attend school
  • Self-harm
  • In extreme cases: suicide

Introduction To Teenage Bullying: But why exactly does cyberbullying happen?

While it is sometimes difficult to know what exactly is going on in the mind of a bully, usually, a cyberbully is motivated by frustration or anger. Maybe they want to get back at the mean remark that was made to them or to a friend at school, but didn’t feel they had the courage to reply face-to-face, or want to take revenge after a rejection or breakup.

Sometimes, they bully someone for entertainment, because they have so much time on their hands and lots of way to communicate with others, and they feel the need to grab attention or get a reaction out of someone. There’s also the clique or “gang” culture; for example, if a girl becomes friends with someone outside the group, the rest would attack her online and post old embarrassing pictures of her, probably out of jealousy.

While popular “mean girls” cyberbully others to remind them of their social standing at school, some bullies have low self confidence, and compensate that with harassing someone repetitively so that they have some sort of dominance or influence upon their lives. Tech-savvy nerds who are bullied in real life may feel the need to be the “tough guy” online, where they can use the tech tools they’re familiar with. The least problematic reason is to stand up for others who are being bullied, which is not the best way to deal with it, since you cannot right the wrong with another wrong.

Introduction To Teenage Bullying: What about sexting?

Once upon a time, a 12-year old girl sent an explicit photo to her then boyfriend because “he said he loved me and if I cared about him, I’d do it… After I sent him that picture, he ignored me and put [it] up on Bebo and Facebook saying I was easy”. The boyfriend, who later became an ex-boyfriend, used this picture and let it circulate the Internet for years to come. Everyone looked down upon her, and she started self-harming, until she tragically took away her own life.

Not all sexting incidents are that tragic, agreed. But the act of taking and sending nude or semi-nude pictures through text messages or internet-enabled mobile phones can lead to very serious consequences. Someone could find about those pictures and forward them to others, and perhaps a breakup would lead to having those pictures leaked online. What if a parent finds out about them? Even worse… what if some other adult found them, and decided to use them to pose as a teenager online? The fact that anyone can be virtually anonymous on the Internet helps that a lot and nobody might ever find out.

And because it’s your life we’re talking about, we’re here to tell you all what there is to know about cyberbullying; how to know you’re being bullied, how to deal with the bully, and how to protect yourself from online/mobile phone trouble.

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