It’s Not Cyberbullying, But…

Though someone’s mean online behavior might not fit the definition, it can still hurt. By Christine Elgersma 
It's Not Cyberbullying, But ...


A student sees a group of girls coming toward her in the hallway. One has been her best friend since second grade, but she doesn’t know the others very well. She says hi to them as they pass. They all ignore her or roll their eyes, including her friend. A few lockers down, they whisper to each other while they stare at her and laugh behind their hands.

While we can all agree the girls in this situation are being mean, can we call this bullying?

These “IRL” (in real life) scenarios happen all the time, and they often carry over into the online world. And though insults, exclusion, and even all-out aggression don’t always meet the technical definition of cyberbullying — ongoing, targeted harassment via digital communication tools over a period of time — they still hurt.

The best remedy for all these issues is prevention and education: Teaching kids what it means to be kind and respectful and a responsible digital citizen can nip lots of trouble in the bud. But when and if problems start, it’s good for parents to understand what’s happening — and how to help.

So, other than straight-up cyberbullying, what are some other reasons our kids might be bummed by others’ online behavior?

Ghosting. When friends cut off online contact and stop responding, they’re ghosting. Refusing to answer someone’s texts or Snaps is actually a way of communicating during a shift or upheaval among a group of friends. Often, instead of ever addressing the issue head-on, kids will just ignore the targeted person.

  • How to handle it. Being ignored is tough. Instead of relying on the old parent standby, “If they’re ignoring you, they’re obviously not your real friends,” try to empathize and validate your kid’s feelings. If they’re willing, encourage them to try a face-to-face conversation with the ghosters. If that feels too hard, suggest your kid stop trying to get replies; the ghosters may come around, but if not, your kid is free to move on.

Subtweeting. When you tweet or post something about a specific person but don’t mention them by name or tag them, you’re subtweeting. Usually, subtweets are critical or downright mean. Since the target isn’t tagged or even named in most cases, they might not know it’s happening until someone clues them in.

  • How to handle it. If your kid finds out someone is subtweeting them, they have a few options depending on the perpetrator. If it’s a friend who’s suddenly turned on them, it’s a good time to address it face-to-face. If it’s someone they don’t know well or have a conflict with, it’s best to ignore it. Engaging in a Twitter war (or conflict on any other platform) usually escalates the problem.

Fake accounts. Sometimes kids will create fake accounts in someone else’s name and use that account to stir up trouble or hurt that person. In most cases, there’s no way to trace who created the account, and even if it’s shut down, the person can just create another one.

  • How to handle it. Dealing with fake accounts can feel like a game of whack-a-mole. But a kid who’s targeted should actively defend themselves by blocking and reporting it. Kids should also let friends know what’s happening to set the record straight — and take some of the fun out of it for the person creating the accounts.

Sharing embarrassing posts and pics. Taking selfies and group pics are a normal part of tween and teen life. But sometimes kids take pictures of each other that, while fun in the moment, are potentially embarrassing if widely shared or cruelly captioned. Often this is done by someone who thinks they’re being funny or assumes everyone will get the joke. But pictures or compromising posts can make the rounds in a hot minute, so no matter the intentions, the shame can stick.

  • How to handle it. It’s best if kids get in the habit of asking each other for permission to share photos. But that won’t always happen. Remind kids to think about the impact the photo will have on others before they post it. Kids can also ask their friends to take down embarrassing pictures as soon as they know they’re public. If the image has already made the rounds, they may not be able to chase down every copy. But you can reassure kids that everyone will likely move on to the next piece of news and forget about it soon.

Rumors. Social media is a perfect venue for the rumor mill, so lies can go far and wide before the target even knows what’s happening. And once the fake news is out there, it’s pretty impossible to reel it back in.

  • How to handle it. Your kid’s response depends on the type of rumor. If it’s something that involves other people — like a rumor that your kid stole someone’s significant other and that has led to threats — you may need to get the school involved. If the rumor is embarrassing or hurtful but isn’t likely to cause a fight, it’s fine for your kid to post a response. Coach them to respond just once and ignore the comments. Otherwise, they can refute the rumor in person when it comes up and wait for everyone to move on.

Exclusion. A kid may be scrolling through their feed and stop cold at a picture of all their friends together — without them. Usually, these kinds of photos aren’t intentional slights. But sometimes they are. And if the person who posted the picture knows your kid follows them, there’s — at the very least — a lapse in judgment.

  • How to handle it. Responding online probably won’t get the best results. Encourage your kid to approach the original poster face-to-face and explain that the photos hurt their feelings. It’s best if your kid can use “I” statements, like “I felt really hurt when I saw that picture … ” (not “I think you’re a jerk”). If your kid can express their emotions honestly, they’ll probably discover it was just a careless oversight. If it was a deliberate jab, then your kid should probably unfriend the OP (original poster).

Griefing. Remember those kids on the playground who always whipped the ball at other kids and called them names? Those kids play multiplayer video games, too. But instead of whipping a ball, they kill your character on purpose, steal your game loot, and harass you in chat. Online, that behavior is called “griefing.” If your kid plays multiplayer games with chat, they’re bound to run into it at some point.

  • How to handle it. Before your kid starts playing a game with anonymous strangers, make sure they know how to report and block players who are being cruel on purpose. Tell your kid not to get into an argument over chat, since it probably won’t resolve anything and could escalate the aggression. Certain games tend to have more toxic behavior than others, so encourage your kid to try a different game where the community is known to be respectful and the moderators don’t tolerate trash-talking.

Hate speech. Teens encounter hate speech even more than cyberbullying. This kind of language is similar to cyberbullying, but it’s targeted to hurt someone based on personal traits such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or belief system. And unlike the persistent cruelty of cyberbullying, it can be a one-time thing. Even if your kid isn’t the object of the posts or comments, they may feel the impact if they’re a part of the targeted group.

  • How to handle it. If your kid encounters hate speech online, it’s OK for them to post a matter-of-fact, one-time response refuting it. But they shouldn’t get involved in a flame war. Check in with your kid about the kinds of attitudes they see expressed online. If they’re seeing a lot of hurtful language, encourage them to seek out alternative feeds — especially ones from supportive online communities. And if it’s something really painful or that makes your kid feel humiliated, offer strong counter-messages. If your kid knows the person who posted hate speech — such as another student at school — you can gauge whether to get others (administrators and other parents) involved. Hate speech can have very real consequences in the real world, depending on the context and whether threats are involved.

An Open Letter To Middle School Girls

The Huffington Post

Go forth and be kind. And be real. But do not go forth and be perfect.

…just to make you laugh. 

…or almost middle school… or just left middle school ― you get my point.

Dear beauties,


If you live somewhere where they don’t call it “middle school,” I’m talking about grades 6-8, and ages 11-14. Call it “intermediate school.” Call it “junior high.” Whatever you want to call it, it is ROUGH.

Having been through middle school and having taught middle school, I consider myself pretty proficient in how it works. Somehow, regardless of who you are and what you bring to the table, middle school is unkind to every single person who passes through it. My dad always said, “If we really wanted to win a war, we’d deploy a plane full of 12-year-old girls. That’d do it.” Oh man, how true that is.

Teaching middle school, I heard the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else.

Going through middle school, I said the meanest things anyone has ever said to anyone else. And had them said about me. And so does everyone.

Somehow, regardless of who you are and what you bring to the table, middle school is unkind to every single person who passes through it.

But here’s the big difference: When I was in middle school, there was no such thing as Instagram. No Snapchat. No Facebook, even. Social media hadn’t been invented yet.

In my own middle school experience, if someone was talking behind your back, they did it the old-fashioned way: when your back was turned. When you left the room. In the corners of the locker room at P.E. On (now-archaic) three-way-calls after school ― and, by the way, to make those calls, one had to ask, “Is Jennifer there?” to Jennifer’s mom. Because it was a landline. Because it was 2000.

But the game has changed, my friend. Just like YouTube videos or Vines, meanness can be viral. It spreads like a plague from one smartphone to the next, and before long, everyone has seen/read/heard/watched something horrible about you.

I honestly can’t imagine what that must be like.

As a 12-year-old human, I looked like this:

My mom and me.

Please take note of a few things. Braces, first of all. Unkempt baby hairs everywhere. Chubby cheeks. I don’t think I wore makeup yet. This picture happens to be from my 12th birthday. At this particular birthday party, we had cake and watched “Stepmom” on my back porch. It was awesome.

I didn’t worry about how cute my party was because I wasn’t going to post it on Instagram later. I didn’t worry about whether I had dark circles or wrinkles on my face or about how thin I looked. I wasn’t adding this photo to my Snapstory or editing it on Facetune or ANY. OF. THAT. SHIT.

(I said “shit.” Know what kids in middle school say when their parents aren’t listening? “Shit.” Everyone calm down.)

Just like YouTube videos or Vines, meanness can be viral. It spreads like a plague from one smartphone to the next.

If you’re in middle school today, the world is telling you that you aren’t good enough. The world has always told middle schoolers that. But now, the world has new technology to drive the point home. The fact that there is an app called “Perfect 365” in which you edit yourself to look, you know, perfect… 365 days a year… is terrible. The further fact that a new version of middle school mean-girl three-way calling is for someone to pose in a picture alongside a friend, then edit ONLY themselves, leaving the other person to appear (heaven forbid!) unedited, and therefore less attractive, is MIND-BOGGLING TO ME.

On social media, we curate a very particular version of ourselves. We like to choose our best, prettiest, funniest moments. EVERYONE does this. The problem is, it’s not terribly genuine. And in lots of cases, especially middle school, it just gives people another platform to say mean things about you.

Snapchat changes their filters all the time, but one that has stuck around is the “Beauty” filter. This filter… well, actually, let me just show you:

Beautiful… according to Snapchat.

I tried to make the same face, but you get the point. The top photo is me, unfiltered, regular ol’ MC. Although I am doing what my husband calls my “social media face,” wherein I do not show my teeth and try to get the apples of my cheeks to pop.

(See? I, too, am ruined by all this crap.)

The second photo is me with the Snapchat’s “Beauty” filter ― you can see that my skin is suddenly glowing and pore-less, my eyebrows are perfectly manicured, my eyes are bigger, my nose is slenderized, my jawline and chin have been tapered and shaved down.

I have to tell you something, middle school girls:

This is all bullshit.

(I know, I said “shit” again.)

You know how self-conscious and insecure you feel? I have a secret: Every SINGLE person in middle school feels this way.

You know how self-conscious and insecure you feel? I have a secret: Every SINGLE person in middle school feels this way. Some days, you’ll mask this insecurity with confidence and it won’t bother you a bit. You’ll pursue the things you love with total and joyful abandon. These are awesome days.

Other days, on your less-than-lovely days, your insecurity will win. You will say something nasty about someone. You’ll pass around a photo of a girl in herunderwear ― a picture she sent her boyfriend in private ― and ruin that girl’s reputation. She might change schools because of it.

(A note here for all parents who may be reading this and think that middle schoolers sending each other sexually inappropriate pictures isn’t a Thing: It’s a Thing. Heads up.)

These will not be your finest moments. They are ugly moments. They’re moments that you’ll cringe about for years to come. Whatever the severity of the ugly moments ― be it idle gossip or going too far with a guy ― everyone will have them.

The idea that any of us ― ANY of us (Kylie Jenner included) ― leads a Perfect 360 life is a Perfect 360 lie.

Here it is:

Have you ever seen a sunset and pulled out your phone to try and photograph it, only to be totally disappointed that your picture isn’t reflecting how truly awesome what you’re looking at is?

That’s because reality is TOO BIG FOR OUR SCREENS. It’s just too big and grand. It won’t fit. And all that “perfection” stuff people are selling you? Not real. Not by a mile.

You’re too good to try and edit yourself down to what other people think you’re supposed to be.

The true, gritty, weird, kooky, off-beat, awkward, brace-face, chubby-cheeked, “does the robot at parties because you’re too self-conscious to dance” realness that is YOU is just so unbelievably fabulous that it doesn’t fit in a frame. It can’t be captured with 140 characters. It can’t be polished into submission on Facetune. You are too awesome for that. You are too good to be shoved into a tiny box with a giant lightbulb and a touchscreen. You’re too good to try and edit yourself down to what other people think you’re supposed to be.

So listen to me, because I’m older than you (I’ve been waiting years to say that, okay? I know it was annoying but just let me have it):

Go forth and be kind, and be weird, and be real. But do not go forth and be perfect. If I catch you attempting the myth of perfection, I will come to your house and scribble on you with permanent marker until you remember what I said about being kind and weird.

As you’re starting school, you’re going to feel a lot of pressure. Remember to join a club or a team, to be respectful to your parents and teachers, to stick by your friends. Remember how awful it felt when someone said that crappy thing about you, and try to not say a bunch of crappy things about other people ― in personor on the Internet. Hold on to the people who make you feel good about you. Be someone who says good things about others.

Whoever you are, go be that person. Unfiltered.

(And just for the record? You’re right. You can do that math with a calculator when you grow up and you don’t actually have to learn it. Don’t tell your parents I said so.)

Mary Catherine

Originally published at

Rachel Simmons at the “Girls Symposium” – October 17 in Trumbull, CT

Here’s some information on an upcoming local symposium on girls featuring Rachel Simmons.  Many members of the Middle School faculty will attend; perhaps some parents would also like to attend.



Keynote Speaker
Rachel Simmons

Keynote speaker Rachel Simmons, is aNew York Times best-selling author, educator, and coach helping girls and young women grow into emotionally intelligent and assertive adults.

She will share best practices on empowering girls with confidence and courage.

The first 100 registrants will receive a free copy of The Curse of the Good Girl.

Thursday, October 17
Marriott Merritt Parkway, Trumbull

Join more than 200 educators, social service providers, parents, school resource officers and more at the Second Annual Girls Symposium.

You’ll experience expert-led presentations and workshops specially designed to help today’s girls and young women.

You’ll learn strategies you can apply in the following areas:

  • Teen dating violence and sexual assault
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Empowering girls to take on leadership roles
  • Body image and self-esteem
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Fostering Collaboration among girls
  • And more


The Girls Symposium is ideal for:

    • Educators
    • Social Service professionals
    • Faith-based leaders
    • Therapists
    • School Resource Officers
    • Parents and guardians
    • Anyone who works with girls


Registration is $75 per person and includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials.

Space is limited to the first 200 attendees, so register online today.

You can also print, complete and mail your registration form and check.


Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Location: Trumbull Marriott Merritt Parkway
180 Hawley Lane
Trumbull, Conn.
Driving Directions 


Tricia Hyacinth
Program & Development Associate
The Fund for Women and Girls



New Report Sheds Light On Teen Dating and Digital Abuse

February 20, 2013 2:08 PM

From Education Week

By guest blogger Mike Bock

One in four teens in a romantic relationship reported that their partners had harassed or abused them during the previous year using social media, text messages, or other forms of digital communication, a new report from the Urban Institute concludes.

But 84 percent of the teens who reported experiencing abuse in digital forums said they were also psychologically or physically abuse, suggesting cyberbullying in relationships could be a natural extension of other types of mistreatment, said Janine Zweig, one of the chief researchers of the report.

“This type of abuse seems to be another tool in the toolbox of someone who is inclined to abuse or harass their partner,” she said in an interview.

Zweig also said that digital abuse through email, text messages, and social media can sometimes be a red flag that indicates in-person abuse is occurring, and that teens’ increased access to digital communications means that abuse can easily happen away from school property.

The Washington, D.C.-based research organization recently published the complete results of the report, called “Digital Abuse: Teen Dating Harassment through Technology“, in theJournal of Youth and Adolescence. More than 5,600 middle-school and high-school students participated in the survey.

The report found that tampering with a partner’s social media account is the most prevalent form of digital abuse, with 8.7 percent of teens reporting having been subjected to it. Sending threatening messages, posting embarrassing photos, and pressure to engage in sexting also made the list.

In addition, girls report being victims of digital abuse while in a relationship more frequently than boys do, with 29 percent of female respondents and 23 percent of males reporting abuse.

While only 17 percent of the teens who report digital harassment say they experienced it during school hours, Zweig said that schools can play a bigger role in monitoring and preventing that abuse from playing out.

Since many schools and districts are taking steps to prevent cyberbullying, those measures can easily be extended to online dating abuse, she said. And since abused teens so rarely seek help—only 9 percent of them do, the report said—increased safety and prevention measures can help create a context by which teens feel more comfortable reporting abuse, said Zweig.