Online Help for Bullying

Last January, I founded BelittletheBullies, a blog for bully victims. I write about my own experiences with the hopes that bullied teens will take comfort that they are not alone, and others share their concerns and problems. Communication is always the first step.

This past summer, bullied teen Elisa reached out to me via Twitter. Her painful words detailed how other students constantly teased her. I advised her to talk to her parents, so she was not the only one carrying this burden, and to not allow others to diminish her integrity. She thanked me for the advice, and every now and again we tweet to one another, and she, I hope, continues to benefit from my support.

What Elisa did by reaching out to me, before turning to her parents for help, is not uncommon. She sought advice from a complete stranger on a social media site. Other bullied teens are also looking beyond family members and friends, seeking out support through blogs and other online sites in the virtual world. With anonymity, accessibility, and advocacy, these sites offer teens comfort.

Troubled teens scour social media sites for advice because they find comfort in the anonymity, says Annie Fox, M.Ed., founder of AnnieFox.com and author of award-winning anti-bullying books. They also want the immediate response that online sites can offer. “I answer every email, and they don’t have to wait longer than 24 hours,” Fox says.

Social media can be effective way to handle emotional trauma, because the process itself is cathartic. “There is some therapeutic value in just writing down and articulating an emotional issue,” Fox says.

Sprigeo.com is an online site committed to doing just that—helping bullied teens articulate their issues. Joe Bruzzese, founder of the site, says that his site is being used by school systems. The upbeat, friendly site asks bully victims to complete incident reports to their school principals, so action can be taken. While it may seem daunting to submit an online report, Bruzzese says that teens find the process worthwhile, because it helps solve the real-world issues.

And this is why Bruzzese believes teens trust Internet sites as much as they trust their parents for advice. “[Adults are] more accustomed to sharing information with our family members and friends, whereas kids today trust online entities as much as you and I trust close friends,” Bruzzese says.

Courtney Knowles, director of Love is Louder, an online movement that encourages teens to share their stories through social media sites to help prevent bullying, seems to agree with Bruzzese. Knowles says that the program is successful because teens find solace in reading other teen’s stories and understanding that they are not the only ones going through tough times.

“People use these sites to share stories of their pain or statistics about how bad the problems are,” Knowles says. “This is an important start to the discussion, but we want to help them use social networks to move beyond the problem and take action.”

Knowles says that Love is Louder is currently working to create an app to help teens learn how to deal with tough situations and bullying issues long-term. “We hope [it] will help young people deal with tough feelings in the moment and make it easier for them to reach out for support if needed,” Knowles says.

Though the Internet can be a source of help, it’s also indisputably one of the biggest causes of bullying today, with 43 percent of teens reporting that they were victims of cyberbullying in the past year, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Edie Raether, international speaker and bestselling author of several books, including “Stop Bullying Now,” argues though, that since the Internet contributes to cyberbullying, it is also one of the best tools to help correct the issue.

For example, Facebook now has the capability to detect and file a report in its safety center when teens write statuses that indicate feelings of depression or suicidal intentions. The safety center provides links to non-profit sites that can help teens deal with bullying and helps bullied teens remove hateful statuses or photos posted about them.

Which is comforting, since she says that 50 percent of bullied teens do not report the incidents to their parents or friends because they assume a “victim syndrome,” and feel too ashamed to share the bullying with friends and family. “They are looking for help, and since the Internet is a source of information to them, they will access sites and [I] am glad they do, as it is certainly a better option than seeing no alternative but to take one’s life,” Raether says.

But Thomas Jacobs, author of “What Are My Rights?” and “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated,” thinks teens seek out advice through online portals for a different reason. Teens fear that if they tell their parents about their bullying issues the parents will make them disengage from social media sites like Facebook. Jacobs says that by shutting down their children’s access, parents feel they are protecting their children from cyber bullies, but, in reality, their children view this move as punishment, since it cuts them off from friends.

And his advice to suffering teens is simple. “Don’t internalize the bullying or think you’ve been singled out and that you’re alone with this problem. Let us help end it and protect you,” Jacobs says.

Link to Published Piece: http://genyu.net/2012/11/20/the-internet-is-your-friend-how-geny-handles-bullying/

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