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Cyberbullying from the Perspective of Victims
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In the last section, we discussed four steps in a technique for structured termination of joint sessions for internet bully and victim. These four steps are, setting the stage, introduce the rationale for termination, introduce preparation tasks, and the final joint meeting.
In this section, we will discuss four specific therapeutic strategies for victims of internet bullying. These four strategies are avoid giving the internet bully an emotional payoff, be verbally assertive, do something unexpected, and practice necessary behaviors.
Mira, age 13, became a target of internet bullying after she reported to the principal that a classmate, Tamara, had stolen her makeup case out of her gym locker. Mira stated, "when I got home that night, I had a dozen instant messages calling me a liar and a tattletale! I tried to defend myself, but the messages just got nastier!" Mira’s mother attempted to address the situation by keeping Mira busy and away from her computer, but Mira had instant messaging on her phone. Mira received up to 50 harassing instant messages a day from Tamara.
Mira’s mother’s actions were certainly understandable. It is a human instinct toward loved ones to be protective. Clearly, while the family support is invaluable, continuous protection by avoiding sources of electronic harassment can result in avoidance reactions. In addition to encouraging family support, I introduced Mira to the following six strategies.
4 Strategies for Victims of Bullying
♦ Strategy # 1 - Avoid an Emotional Payoff
A first strategy I introduced to Mira is to avoid giving the bully an emotional payoff. I stated to Mira, "Sometimes, what a bully is looking for is an emotional reaction. So if you become upset and send an instant message back with emotional language, in some way you might be giving Tamara exactly what she is looking for. In face to face bullying, it can be very hard to conceal your natural emotional reaction to a bully. But online, you have an advantage. We’ve talked about how it can be easier for an online bully to be cruel. In the same way, it can be easier for you to give Tamara a neutral response, because she cannot see if you are feeling afraid or upset. If Tamara sends you an abuse message, you can respond with ‘hi Tamara,’ or something else very neutral. If you avoid giving Tamara an emotional payoff, you increase the likelihood her behavior will peter out."
♦ Strategy # 2 - Be Verbally Assertive
A second strategy I introduced to Mira is to be verbally assertive. As you know, internet bullies are not looking for significant challenges when they pick a victim. Victims who show little confidence in their ability to stand up for themselves offer an easy target, and may be treated by the bully as a convenient online toy.
I stated to Mira, "Using assertive words online can help you convey to Tamara that you have confidence in the fact that you are a good person with rights you cannot be required to give up. This doesn’t mean you should use the aggressive language Tamara uses on you. If you use aggressive language, this conveys disrespect that is likely to provoke Tamara further. Using assertive language instead conveys the idea that your ideas are defensible without demeaning Tamara, and can dissuade Tamara from continuing to harass you."
♦ Strategy # 3 - Do Something Unexpected
In addition to avoiding giving the bully an emotional payoff and being verbally assertive, a third strategy I introduced to Mira is to do something unexpected. As you are well aware, predictability of a victim’s response is necessary for an internet bully to continue harassing a target. I asked Mira to describe a predictable way she responded to Tamara. Mira stated, "Well, every week Tamara posts a list of things she hates about me on MySpace. So I post on my page about it so my friends will know I’m upset."
I stated to Mira, "Maybe if you know Tamara is going to post her list, try doing something a little different. You could post a video that cheers you up, or some of your favorite pictures. That way, you can cheer yourself up, but surprise Tamara by not responding directly in the way she has come to expect."
♦ Strategy # 4 - Practice Necessary Behaviors
A fourth strategy I introduced to Mira is to practice necessary behaviors. Mira stated, "I know I need to respond differently to Tamara. I spend, like, hours thinking about what I could say. But when I sit down at my computer and see a message from her, everything I thought goes out of my head." I stated to Mira, "The next time you have an idea of how to respond to Tamara, write it down. Sometimes, no matter how great an idea sounds, it’s hard to actually type that response because you cannot fully see you giving Tamara your response in reality."
♦ Peer Practice Technique
I suggested that Mira might try the Peer Practice technique. The peer practice technique is a simple role-playing assertiveness technique, which is adapted to suit the internet nature of the bullying interaction.
1. Write down all of the responses that occur to you. You might consider making a file on your computer so that when interactions with Tamara occur, you have them on hand.
-- 2. Choose a supportive friend or family member to practice with, and tell them your ideal responses.
-- 3. Role play the scenario online or using text messaging with your supportive friend. Have them play Tamara’s role, and practice using your ideal responses until they become familiar.
-- 4. After you feel confident about your practice, discuss the following questions with your supportive friend. How did giving your responses feel? What effect might your response have on Tamara? Is it assertive or aggressive language? Could you work together to change the response and make it better? What might you try next?
I explained to Mira that the answers she came up with in discussing her role play may not be always positive and comforting. Doubts will naturally arise about how responses might work that cannot be answered completely until the responses are tried in an actual situation. However, the value of this practice is that ideas can be tested, dropped, and changed to make them better and help the victim feel more confident. Think of your Mira. Would the online Peer Practice technique help her or him develop confidence in regards to responses to an internet bully?
In this section, we have discussed four specific therapeutic strategies for victims of internet bullying. These four strategies are avoid giving the internet bully an emotional payoff, be verbally assertive, do something unexpected, and practice necessary behaviors.
In the next section, we will discuss four strategies for skill training for internet bullies. These four strategies are identify support, increase the ability to empathize, gain a more accurate self-concept, and improve social problem solving and anger management.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Gradinger, P., Strohmeier, D., & Spiel, C. (2017). Parents’ and teachers’ opinions on bullying and cyberbullying prevention: The relevance of their own children’s or students’ involvement. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 225(1), 76–84.
Yang, C., Sharkey, J. D., Reed, L. A., & Dowdy, E. (2020). Cyberbullying victimization and student engagement among adolescents: Does school climate matter? School Psychology, 35(2), 158–169.
Kowalski, R. M., Dillon, E., Macbeth, J., Franchi, M., & Bush, M. (2020). Racial differences in cyberbullying from the perspective of victims and perpetrators. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(5), 644–652
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