How To Deal With Cyber-Bullying (Without Losing Your Mind)

7:00 AM

Some of you may have noticed that I took another hiatus from blogging, and this time it had nothing to do with being sick. (I do have a sinus infection again; thanks for asking). I took some time off because I was cyber-bullied, and I wasn't sure if I should address it in depth, ignore it completely, or just skim over it and continue posting as planned.

If you read the title, then you already know my decision. 

Here's the dealio. I'm no stranger to bullying. I was a skinny, sickly child who later became a chubby, sickly child. I had crooked teeth, frizzy hair that started graying when I was only ten years old, and I was never interested in what the "in crowd" liked. When other girls my age were doodling "I love Brad Pitt" in their notebooks, I was reading Agatha Christie novels. They listened to Backstreet Boys; I listened to Pink Floyd. They wanted to paint their nails; I was much happier playing outside.

My nicknames included Jelly Belly, Crooked-Toothed Jerk, Dirt Lady, and Witch Girl. Even a couple of the teachers were in on it.

And I tolerated it. 

I tolerated having sticks driven into my hands when a group of kids decided to reenact the crucifixion. 

I tolerated having a solo taken from me and given to another girl because she lied and said I stole her homework. 

I tolerated being called ugly and fat and stupid and just about every other insult you can think of.  

Until the day I didn't.  

A girl pushed me up against a brick wall and raised her fist. I ducked. The impact was explosive. If you've never heard the sound of breaking bones up close, it's hard to imagine. She was the one who tried to hit me, but I was the one who got in trouble. Only that didn't matter to me. I taught the playground bullies an important lesson: I was done. 

I was done with being ridiculed. I was done with being afraid to go to school every morning. I was done with being the victim. 

So I became a bully. 

My short-lived stint as part of the "in crowd" came down to one thing and one thing only: the other kids were too afraid of what might happen to them if they ever cornered me again. 

I'll give myself some credit here. I didn't become a tyrant. I didn't trip boys in the schoolyard or cut off anyone's pigtails. I used intimidation instead. I'm short now, but I was the third tallest girl in my sixth grade class, and I used it to my advantage. I never hit anyone; all I had to do was stand up and glare. I was invited to parties at the popular girls' houses. I was invited to join cotillion, which was a huge deal in my small, southern town. 

I was miserable. 

What does any of this long-winded spiel have to do with coping with cyber-bullying? Everything

But let's back this up a second and paint a picture of why I'm ranting in the first place. 

About a month ago, a troll began to stalk my Instagram page. My first reaction was amusement -- my little page had attracted enough attention for me to have a troll? Then came annoyance -- what the hell was wrong with this creep anyway?

Finally, the scales tipped, and annoyance became disgust. The troll commented: "Why don't you just kill yourself?" 

I'm mentally stable enough that I was able to roll my eyes and click the report button, but it got me thinking. How many emotionally fragile, impressionable kids online read those words and take them to heart? There was one a period in my life when a comment like that would have pushed me over the edge. 

Suddenly, I was outraged. Not on my behalf, but on behalf of kids who are where I once was. And not just kids. Adults are being bullied online, too. I can think of at least two famous YouTubers who have hate pages dedicated to them. 

So how are we supposed to deal with it? 

Being bullied is especially daunting when you feel isolated. Cyber-bullies rely on making you feel like you're all alone with your laptop, and that isn't the case. I was shocked by the number of people who came to my defense, but even if you don't have an Instagram Defense Squad, you aren't alone. Talk to a parent, teacher, or friend. Someone will listen.

Don't get into arguments with them. I know it's hard not to snap back. It feels like you aren't standing up for yourself, but opening a line of communication is only going to lead to more nasty comments. It isn't worth it. If you absolutely have to reply, do it with humor. That isn't what bullies expect, and you'll feel better about not stooping to their level.

Report them. Whether it's an email, an Instagram post, or a bitchy comment on Twitter, bullying violates the terms and conditions of online conduct. (You know, the 50-pages of mumbo jumbo we never read and just click "I agree" when we reach the bottom of the page).

Take a step back from the internet. I know most of us need to be connected because of school, work, or both, but if you can avoid the platform where you've been bullied until you calm down, most of the time the troll will have lost interest.

Keep it in perspective. This brings us back to the point of my story. Remember that most -- if not all -- bullies started off on the other side of the equation. Their words have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. You aren't stupid or worthless. You shouldn't kill yourself. Realize that if someone is attacking you, you have a sort of power over them. They're wasting time, the most precious commodity there is, trying to bring you down to their level. Don't give them power over you.

Don't complete the cycle. It's easy to want to lash out after you've been bullied. I've done it. Bullies are made, not born. Either they grew up in an environment where bullying is a part of daily life, or (like 49% of kids in grades 4-12) they've been exposed to it at school. You should never feed into a bully's need for attention, but that is not the same as ignoring the problem. We, as a society, have created an environment where bullying is viewed as "kids being kids," and we, as a society, are going to have to change that environment. 

Protect yourself. Cyber bullies hide behind anonymity, but if they have your personal information or you feel physically threatened, you have the right to contact the police. You aren't overreacting or being a drama queen. Once bullying becomes harassment, Federal laws have been broken.  

I could go on forever about this, but I think I've given my troll enough airtime already. For more information, visit Stop Bullying

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