The notification bar read “1,” and I clicked on my screen to see what it was. Before the page even finished loading, I felt sick to my stomach. I somehow knew I wouldn’t like what I was about to see.
The first words I read were:
“Sanah Jivani wears a wig. Let’s guess why.”
My heart pounded and my palms began to sweat as so many tears filled my eyes that I could no longer read the screen. What was going on?
I struggled to catch my breath when I finally put the pieces together: Someone had created a page to make fun of me.
A New Reality
This incident was only the latest and cruelest in a cycle of cyberbullying that had been going on for months, after I lost my hair to Alopecia. I woke up one morning in the seventh grade to find all of my hair on my pillow. I was terrified and heartbroken, and I immediately bought a wig to hide my condition.
My peers soon found out, and the cyberbullying began almost immediately, mostly status updates about my wig. It was an easy way for people to say mean things behind a screen or anonymously, helping them feel less accountable for what they were doing. The words still hurt just as much.
As I finally reached the end of this page created to make fun of me, I realized I needed to do something about it. I immediately printed out screenshots and decided that I was finally going to ask for help. This was a decision I did not take lightly, as I had been hiding my online bullying from adults for months. But I no longer felt safe at school, and that lack of safety continued as I logged onto my computer online.
“We Can’t Help You”
I walked into my counselor’s office in tears and pulled out the screenshots one by one. The mean words and threatening messages students sent me haunted me as I stared at the sheets of paper. My counselor carefully observed each one, then looked up at me.
“We can’t help you.”
These four words echoed in my head as my stomach immediately dropped. I soon realized that my school didn’t have a cyberbullying policy. If the bullying did not happen on campus, I learned, there was nothing adults could do to help me.
I continued to receive threatening and hateful messages every day for the next two years. One day, I vowed I would do something about it—with or without my school’s help.
Action Steps to Confront Cyberbullying
As a freshman in high school, I found the courage to go without my wig and started a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Love Your Natural Self Foundation. We now work with more than 100 schools around the world to spread curriculum relating to self-love.
One of our initiatives focuses on cyberbullying. We train students, educators, counselors, and administrators on action steps they can take when confronted with a cyberbullying situation. Here are a few:
Be there for the student. No student wants to hear “I can’t help you” as they are approaching you for help. Getting help is one of the hardest things you can do, and it is an extremely vulnerable position to be in. If a student approaches you, make sure to support them emotionally and let them know that you will support them in their journey to combat online bullying.
Help them report and block the sender. Reporting hateful content is extremely important to help it get taken down. Sometimes it may seem that blocking and reporting the sender is obvious, but having an adult walk you through the process and helping you file your report can be extremely encouraging.
Take screenshots of everything. Documenting cyberbullying is extremely important. Take these complaints seriously and keep a file of screenshots.
Teach students to stand up for each other. When a student is being bullied online, it is important that their peers are not just passive bystanders. Teaching students to take a stand and speak up when they see online bullying can create a culture of positivity and support on social media.
Create movements that encourage kindness. From hosting a random acts of kindness day to dedicating a week to anti-bullying efforts, the campus climate you create plays a major role in how students will act outside of the classroom. Do not underestimate the power of this programming.
Have a conversation about cyberbullying. If cyberbullying is a taboo topic that people struggle to speak up about, students will be less likely to reach out. Make cyberbullying a common topic of discussion. Have conversations about these tools, resources, and tips so students feel comfortable getting help if needed.
These are only a few of the many action steps educators trying to cope with a student facing cyberbullying can take. This is a new type of bullying, and although it may be difficult to combat, it needs to be taken seriously. No student deserves to feel unsafe at school, at home, or on the internet.
Sanah Jivani is a junior honors student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, double majoring in sociology and communication. She is the founder of International Natural Day and the Love Your Self Foundation. She currently serves as an America’s Promise Alliance Trustee. To learn more, visit www.internationalnaturalday.com.