What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. By definition, it occurs among young people. When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition of cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking, a crime that can have legal consequences and involve jail time.

Sometimes cyberbullying can be clear-cut. For example, leaving overtly cruel cell phone text messages or mean notes posted to Web sites. Other acts are less obvious, such as impersonating a victim online or posting personal information or videos designed to hurt or embarrass another child.

Cyberbullying also can happen accidentally. The impersonal nature of text messages, IMs, and emails make it very hard to detect the sender’s tone — one teen’s joke or sense of humor could be another’s devastating insult. Nevertheless, a repeated pattern of emails, text messages, and online posts is rarely accidental.

A 2006 poll from the national organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids found that 1 in 3 teens and 1 in 6 preteens have been the victims of cyberbullying. As more and more youths have access to computers and cell phones, the incidence of cyberbullying is likely to rise.

Bullying Survival Tips

Ignore the bully and walk away

It’s definitely not a coward’s response — sometimes it can be harder than losing your temper. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get, and if you walk away or ignore hurtful emails or instant messages, you’re telling the bully that you just don’t care.

Hold the anger

Who doesn’t want to get really upset with a bully? But that’s exactly the response he or she is trying to get. Bullies want to know they have control over your emotions.

Don’t get physical

However you choose to deal with a bully, don’t use physical force (like kicking, hitting, or pushing). Not only are you showing your anger, you can never be sure what the bully will do in response.

Practice confidence

Practice ways to respond to the bully verbally or through your behavior. Practice feeling good about yourself (even if you have to fake it at first).

Talk about it

It may help to talk to a guidance counselor, teacher, or friend — anyone who can give you the support you need. Talking can be a good outlet for the fears and frustrations that can build when you’re being bullied

Find your (true) friends. If you’ve been bullied with rumors or gossip, all of the above tips (especially ignoring and not reacting) can apply. But take it one step further to help ease feelings of hurt and isolation. Find one or two true friends and confide how the gossip has hurt your feelings

What If You’re the Bully?

All of us have to deal with a lot of difficult situations and emotions. For some people, when they’re feeling stressed, angry, or frustrated, picking on someone else can be a quick escape — it takes the attention away from them and their problems. Some bullies learn from firsthand experience. Perhaps name-calling, putdowns, or physical force are the norms in their families. Whatever the reason, though, it’s no excuse for being the bully.

If you find it hard to resist the temptation to bully, you might want to talk with someone you look up to. Try to think about how others feel when you tease or hurt them. If you have trouble figuring this out (many people who bully do), you might ask someone else to help you think of the other person’s side.

Bullying behavior backfires and makes everyone feel miserable — even the bullies. People might feel intimidated by bullies, but they don’t respect them. If you would rather that people see your strength and character — even look up to you as a leader — find a way to use your power for something positive rather than to put others down.

Do you really want people to think of you as unkind, abusive, and mean? It’s never too late to change, although changing a pattern of bullying might seem difficult at first. Ask an adult you respect for some mentoring or coaching on how you could change

Free or Low-Cost Counseling

When it comes to finding a counselor, start at school.

School counselors and school psychologists can provide a good listening ear — for free!

Local mental health centers and clinics

These groups are funded by federal and state governments so they charge less than you might pay a private therapist. Search online for “mental health services” and the name of the county or city where you live. Or, go to the website for the National Association of Free Clinics

Hospitals

Call your local hospitals and ask what kinds of mental health services they offer — and at what price. Teaching hospitals, where doctors are trained, often provide low- or no-cost services

Colleges and universities

If a college in your area offers graduate degrees in psychology or social work, the students might run free or low-cost clinics as part of their training

Local mental health centers and clinics

These groups are funded by federal and state governments so they charge less than you might pay a private therapist. Search online for “mental health services” and the name of the county or city where you live. Or, go to the website for the National Association of Free Clinics.

On-campus health service

If you’re in college or about to start, find out what kind of counseling and therapy your school offers and at what cost. Ask if they offer financial assistance for students

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

These free programs provide professional therapists to evaluate people for mental health conditions and offer short-term counseling. Not everyone has access to this benefit: EAPs are run through workplaces, so you (or your parents) need to work for an employer that offers this type of program

Private therapists

Ask trusted friends and adults who they’d recommend, then call to see if they offer a “sliding fee scale” (this means they charge based on how much you can afford to pay). Some psychologists even offer certain services for free, if necessary. You can find a therapist in your area by going to the website for your state’s psychological association or to the site for the American Psychological Association (APA). To qualify for low-cost services, you may need to prove financial need. If you still live at home, that could mean getting parents or guardians involved in filling out paperwork. But your therapist will keep everything confidential.

If you’re in college, you may be covered under a parent’s health insurance policy. (Depending on the rules in your state, you may even be covered if you are not in college.) It’s worth a call to your parent’s insurance company to find out