My head spins as I hear the words come out of my children's and teen clients’ mouths: “I have been bullied online." The phrase lingers and stings.
I instantly find myself wanting to tell my clients that in a few years, none of this will matter. Everything will get better. But that draws from my own experience, and I hold back from the urge to comfort them. Instead, I focus on empowering them to speak about it and aim to increase their coping skills toolbox.
Bullying has existed in our society long before the internet and social media, but the rise of media usage has only led to increasing levels of bullying (Vogels, 2022) In fact, about half of teens in the United States have been bullied online, and negative comments on their appearance is the central focus of the bullying (Vogels, 2022)
As a child and teen therapist, I want to best support my clients through the hurt and pain of being bullied and utilize psychoeducation to explain that only insecure and hurt people hurt others. If this person actually liked themselves, they would not spend their time or energy damaging others. I know from personal experience that things do get better over time.
I find the power of self-disclosure in my writing to be empowering to myself and my readers.
I was 16 years old. I remember shaking, crying, and feeling so hopeless inside one day in 2010 as I opened up my computer after school. I was a junior in high school, and someone in my school had created a webpage called “CCA (the name of my high school) Gossip Girl." On this harmful webpage, there were anonymous posts from other students which spread rumors about other students. Almost all of the posts were about me. I remember continuously scrolling down the pages and seeing my name on almost every submission. I was called terrible names as well as labeled as "ugly" and a "loser."
My already very low self-esteem at this age plummeted to an all-time low. Going to school for the next few weeks was isolating and embarrassing. It felt like everyone had read the rumors and gossip, and no one knew who the person spearheading the posts were. When I went to the school administration and complained, begging the school to find out who it was and get the website taken down, they told me it was “not their problem." They also had the audacity to blame me for the creation of the website. They literally accused me of posting the rumors (which were a majority of negative comments about me).
It was really hard for me to function. I cared so much about what people thought about me, and my self-esteem was rooted in the validation of others. I felt shame and embarrassment about telling my parents, but finally had the courage to do so, as I was experiencing panic attacks for the first time. Thankfully, I was able to switch schools, but the pain did not go away. I wish that I had more emotional strength and confidence at the time. I finally got into therapy at about 17 years old. It helped me immensely.
I was bullied online almost 13 years ago, and since then social media sites and smartphone usage has only become more prevalent in 2023. One study found that children and teens who have been cyberbullied are at 50 percent more risk of suicidal behaviors and self-harm than their peers. (Mclean Hospital, 2022). Additionally, children and teens who have experienced cyberbullying are more likely to develop anxiety and depression, as well as lack self-confidence (Mclean Hospital 2022). Without self-confidence, children may not have the emotional strength to try new things and they develop negative self-talk and beliefs about themselves. This is exactly what happened to me when I was cyberbullied. I was anxious, felt alone, and hated myself.
Now, as a 29-year-old therapist who is devoted to helping children and teens process their feelings and build self-esteem, I am happy to say that I did not let the bullies win. I am strong, confident, and love who I am. Self-discovery, self-love, and healing emotional wounds take dedication and work. I have spent years in my own therapy, and having emotional support has helped me in many ways. If you are a parent, and you feel that your child is being bullied, try to support them as much as possible. Give them a hug, tell them that they are special, and everything will be okay.
If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
The mental health impact of bullying on kids and teens. The Mental Health Impact of Bullying on Kids and Teens | McLean Hospital. (2022, January 5). https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/bullying-kids-teens
Vogels, E. A. (2022, December 15). Teens and cyberbullying 2022. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2022/12/15/teens-and-cyberbullying…