This one goes out to the teenies, tweenies, and anyone at any age dealing with meanies. (See what I did there?)
I would like to begin by saying it’s nice being 30.
I never thought I’d write a piece like this because I figured at this age that my peers would be mature enough to respect my space and opinion, or if appropriate, rebut in a civil way. Society still has the tendency of making life past 25 look like a downhill slope for women, though I enjoy my autonomy more at this age and feel my discernment has been sharpened on past experiences.
I also recall adolescence and my early twenties being fragile times filled with stupid decisions. It’s not that I don’t make dumb choices these days, but by now I understand the importance of owning up to them.
I know you teens are having it rough, and today’s social media culture makes it impossible to crawl under a rock and hide. I am taunted regularly through someone’s ask.fm account, one of the more notorious platforms for cyber bullying, used often for its anonymous posting format.
Invisibility makes it easier for cowards to sling childish insults at unsuspecting targets. Though it is for this reason that you shouldn’t take what these strangers say too seriously — this doesn’t mean you should just take it either. (READ: The road to a bully-free Philippines)
Cyber bullying is a relatively new phenomenon. It can come in many forms, such as: harassment (repeatedly sending rude and offensive messages); denigration (posting digitally altered pictures of someone, spreading derogatory or false information); flaming (online “fighting” and verbal abuse); impersonation (using someone’s identity to create a fake profile); outing and trickery (revealing someone’s secrets or tricking someone to reveal his or her secrets for the sake of public dissemination); and cyber stalking (engaging in online activities like sending messages or creating posts that make a person feel afraid or intimidated).
You might find it hard to talk to your parents because they come from a generation removed from Web 2.0; maybe you’re embarrassed because they “don’t get it.” To be honest, I don’t always get it. And I’m fine with that. Still, as a fellow victim of cyber bullying, I can at least offer some insight on how I, a grown-ass woman, deal with it. (READ: Is cyber bullying normal in the age of social media?)
Report it to the proper authorities.
Safety first. If you are being threatened, tell someone: a responsible adult, your parents, your teachers, or even the police. Depending on the content of the posts or messages, cyber bullying can be considered a crime, particularly cyber stalking. The fact of the matter is that the people around you should be made aware if your safety is in jeopardy, even if the threats are online. Take screen shots for proof. On social media websites, you can report your bully directly to site administrators.
Don’t fling sh**.
Studies show that the frequency and accuracy with which a chimpanzee throws objects, including fecal matter, is directly correlated to its intelligence. However, you are not a chimp; you are a person of integrity. If your bully calls you names in a public forum or social media website, stay above it. If you have something to say that might come back to you with a vengeance, write it in your journal or rant with friends… in private.
Attend to your feelings
When I was a teenager, I used to get really hurt when someone would call me names. Fortunately, I’m not a teen anymore and sincerely do not care as much. But I’ve been there. If someone calls you names in person, don’t stand for it; no one deserves verbal abuse. If someone calls you names online, see items 1 and 5. Other forms of cyber bullying can also cause pain and stress and may be difficult to ignore. Do not feel ashamed to ask for help. Talk to those who care about you and love you.
Explain mistaken or false representation.
If need be, change your contact information.
My cyber bully made up a fake OK Cupid profile and sent my cell phone number to a bunch of dudes in a city I used to live in. Obviously, this low life knows that such behavior can put both my privacy and safety in peril. Luckily, most of the calls and messages I got were benign. I explained what was happening and requested politely that the gentlemen do the right thing and report the profile as fraud. The responses I received were respectful, cooperative, and apologetic.
I am the adult responsible for me. If you are a teenager and a stranger has your contact information, do NOT to reply. You must let your parents and other responsible adults around you know what is going on, whether you’ve been impersonated or tricked into revealing too much about yourself. You might need to change your number and take extra caution when giving it out. For me, in facing the possibility of danger, I made it a point to let my employer, my neighbors, my family, my friends, my church fellowship, and even the police, know who I suspected was behind the malicious profile, what their motives were, and other pertinent details. Recognize that behavior perceived by ignorant bullies as harmless fun at your expense could have serious and dangerous consequences if left unchecked. Safety first, safety always. (READ: Conversations: What’s your bullying story?)
Let it go
Ignore it. Bullies and web trolls feed on attention; if you can ignore them, do it. Otherwise, refer to items 1-4.
I wish I could tell you that your aggressors will one day be educated on manners and learn from their insecurities. The range of adult behavior is vast and varied, yet sometimes more predictable than that of teens. The thing is, it’s harder for a grownup to stop acting like a spoiled brat than for a teenager to start acting like an adult. Teens, annoying as some of you can be, at least still find yourselves literally in the process of maturation, and could benefit from external influences and nurturing during this trying time. As a teen it’s also crucial to make stronger use of your formative years by trading in some web hours for more productive exploits, like learning a new language or instrument, or practicing your indoor voice and eye-contact. Believe it or not, these skills come in handy in real world social situations.
Don’t let the bullies get to you. Just to keep it real: they may be around even when you’re way past your teens. Remind yourself that they are the ones with the problem, so be strong and find strength in others. Hang in there; you will be OK. – Rappler.com
Irene Sarmiento is an occupational therapist and writer, currently based in Texas. She has published two books for children, Spinning (Anvil, 2009), and Tabon Girl (Anvil, 2012). Her stories have won awards from the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation, Philippines Free Press, and Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards. You can read more of Irene‘s work in posturalmetaphors.com, her yoga and writing blog.