Understanding Cyberbullying and How You Can Help Stop it!

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October is known for various annual public awareness campaigns. National Bully Prevention Month is an annual observance to call attention to bullying and its impact on the lives of millions of Americans. National Cyber Security Awareness Month is aimed at raising awareness of our shared responsibility to collectively create safer and more secure online communities. This guest blog offered by Jenny Hart aims to combine these important messages to help people understand the impact of cyber-bullying and how sharing awareness and voices can help stop it.

Raising Awareness of Cyberbullying and How You Can Protect Yourself

It is National Bullying Prevention Month, so an apt time to highlight the issue of cyberbullying, which is a growing problem across America. The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that according to work conducted into the area of cyberbullying, around a fifth of 11 to 18 year olds have been on the receiving end of this form of abuse.However, cyberbullying isn't restricted to teenagers; adults can be victims of this form of abuse as well. Adults can find themselves bullied online or through their cell phone by acquaintances, colleagues or people they simply meet through online communities. What might start out as a trivial problem, can become a major issue, but there are steps you can take to defuse the situation.

The source of the problem 
English: the picture consist of articles on bu...

English: the picture consist of articles on bullying, I obtained it from public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bullying online can often begin in chatrooms and sites used for social networking, and whether you know those involved or not, the problem can be initially sparked by differing opinions. The bullies may use the excuse that they want to use this exchange as a means to have some lively debate. However, they rarely have the tuned communication skills to participate in a meaningful way. What can start as mild criticism can progress to rude comments and soon escalate into vicious insults that are hurtful or threatening. Bullies find it easier to make the negative and intimidating remarks that they do when not face to face with someone and when they don't see someone's reaction, it's easier for them to keep on going, not knowing when to stop with their cruel comments.

The impact of cyberbullying

Victims of cyberbullying are placed under incredible emotional strain when confronted with this situation, which takes its toll on both physical and mental health. As with bullying that occurs face to face, physical symptoms such as aches and pains, digestive upset, palpitations and difficulty sleeping can all occur due to the worry and tension that surrounds this experience. This also has a detrimental impact on the mental well-being of those who suffer at the hands of cyberbullies. Feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and reduced confidence are all reported by victims of this crime. These can all have a negative impact on someone's ability to participate in everyday activities, their performance in their studies or work and their enjoyment of social activities; this can then cause a further deterioration in emotional well-being and a vicious circle ensues. In the most extreme cases young people who have been cyberbullied report contemplating suicide and there have been a number of cases in the US where this has indeed happened.

Dealing with cyberbullies

There is no need to suffer in silence at the hands of these bullies though. While you might feel helpless, not pursuing an exchange when the tell-tale signs of cyberbullying raises its head is the first step to take. It might be difficult to ignore comments, but doing so can sometimes be enough to stop these bullies in their tracks, so turn off your device if needed. However, if they continue to make attempts to engage with you, block contact from them and report them to the website's moderator. It is also useful to take steps to ensure you maximize your security settings on your social media so that only those you want to have access to personal information about you; don't provide online bullies with access to any information they could use as ammunition against you or use to their advantage. If these measures don't appear to be helping, gather evidence such as screenshots of messages and conversations so that you can present these to the police if you feel it necessary to report your online harassment.
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