Teens bully and make fun of each other through text messages, Facebook posts, tweets and YouTube videos because they don’t see the immediate consequences, says Brandie Oliver, an assistant professor in Butler University’s graduate program for school counseling.

“If a girl posts a mean remark online, she doesn’t have to witness the target’s hurt reaction,” Oliver said. “Many students post messages that they would never say in a face-to-face situation.”

Online bullies also mistakenly think that once they’ve sent a message, “it disappears into space” and can’t be traced back to them, she said. “They get upset when they realize their messages or posts can be retrieved and often are used in disciplinary school actions.”

Hurtful as these digital dramas can be, young people can survive and combat them, Oliver said, through these pro-active tactics:

For Kids

  • Only accept “friends” online who you know and trust.
  • Don’t engage in online bullying, gossip or passing on embarrassing photos and video (even if the harassment was not initially directed at you).
  • Understand that whatever you post (a message, picture, video) can be commented on by others. Ask yourself: Are you ready for others to comment about you?

For Parents/Adults

  • Get involved in the digital world of your teen.
  • Educate youth about the online world.
  • Don’t “cave in” to your teen’s begging for online access if he or she can’t deal with digital drama.

Oliver said her own teenage daughter “tries to tell me ‘EVERYONE’ has a Facebook account. I know that’s not true, and I don’t feel that my daughter is ready for this digital step. You have to stand firm and be a parent.”

Young people should be prepared to deal with face-to-face bullying as well. Letting them discover and use their own voice can help, said Oliver. “Kids need to speak up and tell other kids (especially a bully) what they need and what they don’t want.”

She suggests steering kids to activities that build their confidence. “Kids with self-confidence have a built-in shield against bully behavior.”

And, teach kids to stand up for other kids who are being bullied. School culture often sets the tone for what is or is not acceptable, according to Oliver.

Most important, tell kids they should always report any harassment or bullying to an adult.

Butler University Assistant Professor of School Counseling Brandie Oliver has also served as a middle school counselor and worked with both “victims” and “aggressors” in online bullying and harassment. Since 2010, she and her Butler students have facilitated a teen peer counseling program at an Indianapolis high school. 

To arrange an interview with Brandie Oliver, contact

Mary Ellen StephensonAssociate Director of Public RelationsButler University(317) 940-6944mestephe@butler.edu

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