How to feel safe in a world that bullies


Around 35 per cent of all school-aged kids say they have been cyberbullied, according to research by the Megan Meier Foundation—a foundation created by Tina Meier after her 13-year-old daughter, Megan, took her own life as a result of being cyberbullied.

The Cyberbullying Research Centre defines cyberbullying as a “wilful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices”. Thus, in order for someone’s actions to be considered cyberbullying, they must be: intentional, occur more than once, cause harm to someone else (whether actual or perceived), and be conducted via a technologically-based source.

One study conducted by Pew Research Centre found that cyberbullying isn’t something that stops upon high school graduation. In fact, as many as 40 percent of adult internet users indicate that they’ve been bullied in one way or another while they were online.

Kids Safety explains that there are several different “forms” of cyberbullying, or ways that one person can bully another online. Some of the most common forms include: Excluding the victim from activities, conversations, or social network sites so they feel socially isolated; harassing the victim through abusive and/or threatening messages; sharing something personal about victims to damage their reputation or relationships with others; outing the victim (sharing a piece of extremely private information) in an attempt to humiliate them; cyberstalking the victim, causing them to feel their physical safety is compromised; Fraping the victim, which involves impersonating the victim by signing in to their online accounts, then posting something that could put them in harm’s way; and Catfishing, or setting up fake accounts with the victim’s information and images.

Sometimes the cyberbully’s identity is known by the victim, especially if they use their own online presence to attack the victim. Other times, the cyberbully may choose to set up a fake profile to hide who they are.

It’s also possible that the cyberbully doesn’t know the victim personally. Thus, anyone who spends time online is a potential cybervictim. The traits that they found most frequently in cybervictims include having the appearance of certain behavioural difficulties (such as hyperactivity or trouble paying attention), suffering from emotional issues, and having peer problems. The study also found that teens who were “living in a family with other than 2 biological parents” were also cyberbullied at a higher rate.

According to Joseph Magliano, professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language and Literacy at Northern Illinois University, research says that people who cyberbully often have difficulty feeling empathy for others and use cyberbullying to feel more powerful than they think they are. He says that they bully to gain popularity, usually have poorer parent-child relationships and are not monitored by a parental unit while online.

A 2010 study published by the Archives of General Psychiatry also found that cyberbullies tend to be more hyperactive and have conduct-related issues. Interestingly, many cyberbullies also reported not feeling safe while at school.

Research published by the Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy reveals many negative consequences sustained by victims of cyberbullying, which includes higher rates of depression and anxiety; reduced feelings of self-worth; difficulties sleeping; higher number of physical issues such as headaches and stomachaches; and increased suicide attempts (a Yale study found that victims of bullying are thought to be “two to nine times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than other children”). A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health also found that, for girls specifically, eating disorders are often more prevalent when they are involved in a bullying relationship.

Warning Signs of Cyberbullying
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • No longer participating in activities they once enjoyed
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Refusal to attend school
  • Changes in sleeping or appetite
  • Noticeable changes in mood or behaviour, especially after using a computer or phone

In some cases, the cyberbully has been a victim him or herself. The study published in the Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy found this to be the case about 50 percent of the time as well. It further indicated that individuals who are cyberbully-victims typically suffer more negative consequences than someone who is solely a cyberbully or cybervictim. These consequences often include: Higher rates of depression; increased reports of anxiety; engaging in more self-harming behaviours; and reduced academic performance.

What the victim can do

  • The first is to change your social media accounts to private so no one can post on them without your prior approval. This can also stop cyberbullies from tagging you in their malicious posts.
  • If you know of someone who is involved in cyberbullying, shares several actions you can take that may offer some help.
  • Parents must talk openly with kids so they feel more comfortable sharing issues related to cyberbullying, seek family counselling if they believe cyberbullying is occurring, yet child won’t discuss it. Parents also need to offer “clear, consistent discipline” so children know that cyberbullying is not acceptable and will result in specific consequences and reinforce the development of a child’s positive values, like having empathy for others. Parents also need to encouraging higher academic performance as this can serve as a “protective factor” against cyberbullying and substance use.

As long as the internet exists, cyberbullying will also likely exist in some form or another. However, that doesn’t mean that it has to be encouraged or tolerated. And if you’re a victim of cyberbullying, there is always someone there to help you, no matter what type of help you need.


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