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Online bullying. Stand up to it.

Stand up to online bullying

Bullying is repeated behavior intended to tease, demean, or harass someone less powerful. Online bullying (also known as "cyberbullying") happens on the Internet and in text messages, and it opens the door to 24-hour hurt, sometimes anonymously, and potentially broadcast to a wide audience.

Kids who bully online may:

  • Send hurtful or threatening messages to a target’s phone or in an online game, or distribute altered pictures or a humiliating video on social media like Facebook, Tumblr, or YouTube.

  • Disclose secrets or private information by forwarding a confidential instant or text message, for example.

  • Deliberately exclude someone from a group, in a game or virtual world, or on social media.

  • Impersonate the target by breaking into someone’s phone or social media account, and then sending or posting hateful comments.

  • Pretend to befriend someone, gain his or her trust, and then betray that trust.

There are many reasons why young people mistreat others online—out of boredom, to get approval or be funny, to retaliate for having been bullied themselves, or because they are in distress.

Often, kids may not even recognize their behavior as bullying, and refer to it as drama.

What you can do to help stop online bullying

Pay attention

  • Make time to listen to kids. Sit with younger children while they play and explore online. Regularly ask tweens and teens to show you around—what websites they visit, where they hang out, who with, and how they talk to each other.

  • Lead by example. Kids learn from what adults do. They notice whether you treat others with kindness and respect—your family, friends, neighbors, even strangers.

  • Watch for signs of online cruelty. Look for kids getting upset when online or texting, or for a reluctance to go to school. Watch, too, for kids being mean to others online. Make clear that they should never bully anyone.

  • Ask your children to report bullying to you. Promise unconditional support, and reassure them that you won’t curtail phone, computer, or gaming privileges because of someone else’s behavior.

Encourage empathy

Teach kids to put themselves in others’ shoes (those of bullies, too). With you standing by for support, here are steps kids can take to stand up for a friend or someone who is being bullied:

  • Be kind. Spend time together, and listen. Reassure him or her with supportive phone calls and texts.

  • Set a good example. Don’t forward mean messages, or use insults to defend a friend.

  • Block bullying. Advise the friend not to reply to or even read text messages and online attacks. Help the friend block bullies or change his or her password.

  • Ask those who are bullying to stop. Ask politely, though, and only if it feels safe to do so.

  • Tell others. Help the friend report what’s happening to a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, or coach, or to a counselor or other trained professional.

What to do if a young person is involved in online bullying

Get the full story. Listen carefully and take it seriously. It may not be simple—the child or teen may be the target of bullying, or may be bullying someone as well. Recognize, too, that kids may be reluctant to talk about it.

Together, make a plan. Ask what you can do to help, and make the kid’s answers the basis of the plan.

For a kid being bullied online:

  • Don’t blame the target of bullying (even if he or she started it). No one deserves to be bullied.

  • Advise kids not to respond or retaliate. (Do save messages or other material in case authorities need it.)

  • Report bullying to the website or company where the abuse occurred. For example, in Microsoft services or software, look for a link you can use or contact us directly.

  • If you feel that your child is physically at risk, call the police immediately.

For a kid bullying someone online:

  • Try to understand the source of the bullying behavior. (But, don’t let reasons become excuses.)

  • Be supportive. It’s the behavior, not the kid that is at the heart of the conflict.

  • Discuss how the child or teen can make amends, like an apology or good deed for the person bullied.

Get help. Find counselors or other experts, trained to deal with kids who have been bullied or have bullied others.

Promote kindness in your community

Research shows that promoting empathy and kindness can be a powerful way to help stop bullying.

Advocate for empathy training at school. One of the most effective ways to prevent online bullying is social and emotional learning—the process through which we learn to build strong relationships and develop healthy boundaries and self-perceptions. (Get a list of well-tested programs.)

Teach kindness. This lesson can help students (grades 6 to 9) understand how small, thoughtful actions can make a huge difference in others’ lives.

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