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Teen Club Takes on Cyberbullying By Laurie Wink

The recent suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer’s catalyzed the formation of CyberBullied Unite, a new club that unites victims of personal attacks and those who dislike seeing others being bullied. The club is turning one tool often used by bullies -- Faceboo


The statistics are startling. Nearly 45 percent of today’s teens have been cyberbullied in the last year, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Some 20 percent have been tricked into revealing personal information by a bully pretending to be someone else. About 17 percent of teens have had lies about them spread online. 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered teens are the most frequent targets of cyberbullies. Nine out of 10 of these teens reported being harassed at school in a 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network.
Among the personal tragedies represented by these statistics are two high-profile cases involving the suicides of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi and Williamsville, NY high school student Jamey Rodemeyer. Both had been cyberbullied because of their sexual orientation. 

Clementi posted the Facebook message “jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” right before throwing himself off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. The drastic action was triggered when his college roommate secretly videotaped intimate moments between Clementi and another male then posted the footage on the Internet. 

Rodemeyer committed suicide in September 2011 after years of bullying over his sexual identity, according to his parents. Tracy and Tim Rodemeyer chose to honor their son by speaking out against bullying and urging acceptance of differences.

What is cyberbullying? The Cyberbullying Research Center defines it as, “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.” It can take the form of: threats, provocative insults, inappropriate photos, racial and ethnic slurs, gay bashing, spreading rumors and lies, flooding e-mail inboxes with nonsense messages or infecting a victim’s computer with a virus. Often, cyberbullies use technology to hide their identities from the victims.

Jamey Rodemeyer’s death catalyzed the formation of CyberBullied Unite, a new club that unites victims of personal attacks and those who dislike seeing others being bullied. The club is turning one tool often used by bullies -- Facebook – into a source of support. The Facebook page encourages teens who hear of cyberbullying episodes to report them and let kids being bullied know that they’re not alone.

CyberBullied Unite is the latest resource developed by the non-profit organization Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique Gifted Lovable You) to empower youth to counteract bullying. Betty Hoeffner, president and co-founder of Hey U.G.L.Y., said individuals such as Rodemeyer and Clementi think about suicide when they feel alone and believe everyone is laughing at them. Her research shows that classmates don’t always believe what a cyberbully is saying, but they’re afraid to report incidents out of fear they’ll become the next victims. 

“If teens hear about others who are being cyberbullied, we want them to call the person, post a note on their locker or somehow let them know that they don’t believe any of the hate that is being spewed online,” Hoeffner says.

Hey U.G.L.Y. is taking a frank approach to lessening the sting of cyberbullying with  recommendations such as, “If you are being cyberbullied, don’t read the crap,” and “If you hear of someone being cyberbullied say, ‘I don’t read the crap.’”

Anti-bullying club members are asked to try understanding the bullies rather than attacking them. The teens are encouraged to recognize that bullying is a form of fear and that bullies most likely have been victims themselves. One action recommended on the website is to ask a bully, “Who’s treating you so mean that you have to be mean to me?”

Besides helping victims understand they’re not alone and encouraging teens to understand bullying behavior, the CyberBullied Unite website shares some dos and don’ts about cyberbullying. The dos include: blocking a bully from e-mail and social media sites; sending messages of support to those who are being cyberbullied; telling a trusted adult about the behavior; and contacting the police when there is a threat of bodily harm.

Things the teens are advised not to do include: responding to cyberbullies; deleting messages or other evidence of bullying; passing on bullying messages or photos to others; keeping it a secret; and striking back.

A central message of Hey U.G.L.Y. is to not let words hurt. In fact, the name of the organization takes the negative word “ugly“ and turns it into an affirming acronym. Hoeffner acknowledges that is easier said than done but she believes teens can learn to not let words hurt them. She quotes Fr. Anthony De Mello, an internationally recognized author and therapist, as saying, ”No one has the power to hurt you. It’s your programming that tells you to automatically react negatively when someone calls you a name"

Hey U.G.L.Y., Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping youth with self-esteem and empathy-building programs to empower them to be part of the solution to societal ills like bullying. (U.G.L.Y. is an acronym for Unique Gifted Lovable You.) The Hey U.G.L.Y. message has reached over 700,000 students through their Empathy Learning Activity Plans (ELAPs), website, radio show and work with schools, community organizations and youth development professionals. Their youth programs enable students to become an integral part in the teaching and learning process. 



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