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Taking on Cyberbullying

"Cyberbully meet your match"

Sarah heard the rumors at school that there were some things posted about her on Facebook page. She couldn't wait to get home and log on to see for herself. As soon as she got home she threw her bags on the floor and ran to the computer. "Oh no," Sarah thought as she read. There was even a picture of her posted from a sleepover she had at friend's house, one she didn't want to share with anyone. "This can't be happening." Tears streamed down her sensitive 15 year old cheeks. She bowed her head and silently prayed "Please make it go away."

She read the post and wondered if parts of it were true? Surely it had to be because she never had many friends and was frequently the target of crude jokes. Just then, the phone in her pocket began to vibrate, she pulled it out and read a vulgar message about the post. "I can't escape it. Why does this always have to happen to me? Things were just beginning to turn around. I thought they were my friends. No, I am an idiot they were using me, everyone always uses me. Please someone make them stop. I can't handle it anymore, please... someone help me." Sarah pleaded.

The effects of Cyberbullying are being felt by teens all across the nation. The Cyberbullying Research Center defines Cyberbullying as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computer, cell phones and other electronic devices. One way that Cyberbullying stands apart from traditional bullying is that often the perpetrator can anonymously mask their identity, or so they think.

Cyberbullying is an easier way to bully because it doesn't involve face to face interaction. It's a lot easier to slam someone online than to their face. A teen can quickly spread a rumor through the use of a cell phone by texting many friends at once and as soon as it's sent the damage is done. Oftentimes teens do this as a reactionary response to something that has angered them and they don't think through the consequences of their actions.

So, how do we stop cyberbullying? We join our forces and form an alliance with Teens, Parents, Schools, and Community/Business Leaders. By forming an alliance and following some to the tips below together, we can prevent Cyberbullying.

What can Teens do?
1. Never share your username and password with anyone except your parents. If you do, someone can use your id to post things that appear as though they are from you.
2. Don't let people use your phone without your permission. Never let anyone take pictures using your phone without your supervision.
3. Always save unwanted and derogatory messages. Never delete a threatening message via phone or computer. You may need it as evidence in the future.
4. Never respond via technology when you are angry.
5. Know how to block unwanted calls.
6. Never respond to someone that you don't know.
7. Don't just accept anyone as a friend on social networking sites. This site should be just for your true friends. How many friends you have isn't as impressive as the depth of the relationship. So, it's highly unlikely that you are "true" friends with over 300people. Keep your friends to friends that you can trust don't just accept them as a friend because they're an acquaintance.
8. Don't put stuff online that you don't want everyone to read.
9. Use good technological judgment. If you wouldn't share something that you're texting or posting to the person's face don't put it on-line.
10. There is no anonymity on-line, everything is traceable, deleted or not.
11. If you are the victim of cyberbullying, tell an adult. There is no shame in reaching out for help.
12. Help your fellow peers speak out against any form of bullying. Teens your voice is stronger than ours in reaching your peers, we need your help in preventing bullying!

What can Parents do?
1. Have open communication with your teen. Know what's going on in his/her life.
2. Set up monitoring systems on your computer. Create blocks on your computer to sites that you don't want your kids to visit. Learn how to block unwanted calls. Know what your kids are doing with technology.
3. Write a computer and cell phone contract and outline the consequences if your teen violates it.
4. Request the username and password of all emails, accounts, and social networking sites that your teen's using. Let your teen know to never share his or her password and username with others besides you.
5. Set up Google alerts for your teen's name and do periodic internet searches on your teen's friends. You may be surprised at what you find out.
6. If your teen receives threatening messages, texts, ect. Always keep a copy. Never ever delete them. If this harassment continues, report it to your the local authorities and let the school know what's occurring. If the threats have happened during school time let school officials and the School Resource Officer (if your school has one) or local authorities know immediately. Don't let things go unreported. Be vigilant and assertive in letting these Cyberbullies know that this is a serious matter and you and your teen will not tolerate it.
7. Contact hosting sites to report violation of use. Many times these sites will revoke access to users who have misused their site.

What can Schools do?
1. If you don't have one already, start a mentor program at your school and invite community and business leaders to participate in the program.
2. Develop a school wide anti-bullying curriculum.
3. Administrators set firm anti-bullying rules and let the teens know the consequences of bullying.
4. Host sessions, informing parents of how teens use and abuse modern technology.
5. Train your staff on anti-bullying policies and appropriate versus inappropriate technological use.
6. Have guest speakers come and speak with your students about Bullying and Cyberbullying.
7. Have students and parents sign computer contracts at the beginning of each school year highlighting appropriate and inappropriate uses of school computers as well as the consequences for violating the contract.
8. Have blocks established on school computers to prevent students from visiting inappropriate sites.

What can Communities and Businesses do?
1. Become a mentor. Take time out of your busy schedule each week to spend with a teen. Most schools have mentoring programs but unfortunately don't have enough volunteers to serve the students needs. Your time can make a significant and positive impact on the life of a teen.
2. Host a parent session to help parents understand the technology that kids are using.
3. Host teen sessions to discuss the implications of inappropriately using technology.
4. Help advertise anti-bullying campaigns. Let your community know that bullying is not accepted in your town!
5. Work with the local schools to bring in guest speakers, create anti-bullying campaigns, etc. Provide schools with gifts to give to students who show good character and judgment. Let's highlight the good teens are doing and take the focus off the negative.

Together as Teens, Parents, Educators, and Community/Business Leaders we can form an alliance and stop Bullying and Cyberbullying. I personally, will continue to reach out to youth and use my voice in the community through speaking and writing about the issues that teens face. I will work alongside teens to find a solution to bullying. That's my personal commitment, now what's yours?

More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
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