The Web is where teens go to hang out and to socialize. It’s their virtual neighborhood, coffee shop or shopping mall.
But it provides no respite from the bullies who walk their high school hallways. A survey released this month by computer security software company McAfee found that 87 percent of youth have witnessed cyberbullying.
"Adults tend to now use the Internet for functionality," says Dan Raisbeck, co-founder of the Cybersmile Foundation. The organization's mission is to tackle all forms of online bullying and hate campaigns.
"But for many young kids it is their life. They are socializing. They are growing on the Internet. They are making friends there. It's a completely different experience and we have to recognize that," he says.
Experts say that teens who experience bullying online should seek help from someone they trust, whether online or in their community.
About 15 percent of youth have been electronically bullied, according to the 2013 Youth Behavior Surveillance Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released earlier this month.
Last week, Cybersmile sponsored the second annual Stop Cyberbullying Day, an event to raise awareness of online bullying. Raisbeck and co-founder Scott Freeman created the foundation in 2010 after their own children were cyberbullied.
Cybersmile offers a number of methods for teens to get help, including through their phone, email and Facebook. A 24-hour Twitter helpline offers advice instantly and was recognized among the trusted resources on online abuse by the social networking site.
"If someone is having problems they can come get some confidential feedback from us, from one of our advisers," says Raisbeck.
Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, says that teens who are being cyberbullied should confide in someone in their life who will be able to understand their experience and deal with it appropriately.
"What we also encourage teens to do is try to think about who at their school might be most supportive because maybe teens don’t feel comfortable talking with their parents," he says. A counselor, favorite teacher, coach or even a friend who has been cyberbullied could be an option, he says.
Patchin co-authored "Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral," a book for teens on how to deal with cyberbullying. A companion website, Wordswound.org, offers teens resources and allows them to share their stories.
He has found in his research that most teens say that telling an adult about cyberbullying does not usually help resolve the problem.
"If I tell Mom that I’m being cyberbullied on Facebook, Mom might just respond by saying, 'Just don’t go on Facebook,' or 'Don’t use your cellphone.' Of course, neither of those things solve the cyberbullying problem," he says.
[Find out tips for parents to help their bullied kids.]
Raisbeck says that parents need to recognize that teens who have been cyberbullied have been hurt and that it is a cycle of abuse.
Parents should not punish their children who have been bullied online or make them feel as though the abuse is their fault, he says.
"We need to send them a more positive message," he says.
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