Name-Calling Hasn’t Changed, It’s Just Online Now: Lessons to Combat Cyber-Hate

In an age of cruelty and trolling, a recent PEW Research survey shared that 63 percent of teens said that bullying and online harassment was a major problem. More concerning was the 59 percent who reported being bullied or harmed online.

Before technology and social playgrounds such as Instagram and Snapchat, kids were teasing and mocking each other on the bus, in schools, neighborhoods, or at the playground. Our parents and teachers would tell us, “sticks and stone would break our bones, but words could never hurt us…” However, years later, we come to realize this is not true. Words, especially cruel ones, can stick to us like tar.

What hasn’t changed from the early days is name-calling. Being called offensive names is still the most hateful form of cyberbullying, according to teens in this survey at 42 percent, followed by someone spreading false rumors about them on the internet at 32 percent.

Kids can be mean, and the landscape of social media has become a breeding ground for malicious comments and vicious ways to target each other with horrific names.

The difference between twenty years ago and today is that with technology, the insults are magnified by a million. It’s important to empower our youth with digital resilience and understanding that your online life doesn’t define who you are offline.

The #DefyTheName anti-bullying campaign is asking people to change their user names to the names they were bullied with. This is resonating online with celebrities, entertainers, athletes, and others who have been pushed through their darkest times of being bullied—after being called horrible names—only to become exceedingly successful in their lives.

Beyond the shame

No one is immune to being bullied, shamed and humiliated online. The #DefyTheName campaign aims to turn the table on bullies by reclaiming those hurtful names that people have been called during their childhood or online. Here are three lessons we can learn from #DefyTheName:

1. Cyber-hate doesn’t define you.

From entertainers like Lady Gaga to great athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps, people have shared their stories of being bullied when they were younger and dealt with online shaming, ultimately overcoming how they were mistreated to become world famous.

2. Bad things happen to good people.

When the celebrities that make us laugh, such as Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer, end up as targets of fat shaming, it reminds us that people have no boundaries when it comes to throwing insults, especially when they don’t even know the person in real life.

3. It’s okay to take a digital break.

Let’s face it, there may come a time when you’ve had enough. It’s okay to take a break from social media and other online channels. Help your teen to understand the world won’t come to an end if they take a break. As a matter of fact, even Justin Bieber took a digital detox when his haters got the best of him.

The message is clear, don’t let the bullied name define you.


Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She is the founder of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc., which has helped thousands of families since 2001 with at-risk teenagers. Her first book, Wit’s End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen continues to be a resource for many parents raising teens today. Sue’s latest book, Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, documents how cyber-shaming has become a national pastime and what we can do about it. Connect with Sue on Twitter and Facebook.

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