Mobile phones have become the new weapon of choice for bullies. With three-quarters of children now owning a mobile phone, the anonymity, sluggishness of telecommunications service providers, and the weakness of law provide bullies with the perfect means of taunting their target with little fear of being caught. Text messages provide complete anonymity.
Many pay-as-you-go mobile phones can be bought over the counter and do not require proof of identity, nor is any record kept of the new owner. Calls made from these types of mobile phone are virtually untraceable.
What can you do?
NEVER ignore threats, either verbal or by phone or via text message. But don't respond in the way the bully wants you to. When people advise you to "just ignore it", what they really mean is "do not respond to the taunts and provocation or engage the bullies, but take careful note of what is being done to you, who is doing it and how, and log all of this in a diary, then immediately get your parents involved and develop a strategy for dealing with it which you are all agreed on". So read on...
Understand what bullying is so that when it starts you can stay in control and nip it in the bud. Do your homework now.
DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE the distress and the destructive effect that constant bullying and harassment can have on the recipient and their family.
Get help immediately from a trusted parent - you cannot handle bullying alone. Adults cannot handle bullying by themselves. The bullies, who operate outside social norms, will try to isolate and separate you from friends, family and parents, but don't be fooled.
Learn to recognise the early signs and keep a detailed diary. Print off the messages if you are able, otherwise make a careful note of every one, the date, time, the caller-ID if available, or the reason for the caller-ID being unavailable (eg "withheld", "unavailable", etc) - even this can prove useful.
Bullies derive gratification - a perverse sense of satisfaction - from the power and control they exert over their victim. The aim of bullies is power, control, domination and subjugation. Bullies confirm the power and control by use of provocation. When the target responds, it's a sign that the bully has successfully exerted control. They jerk your string, you jump. By refusing to jump, you deny the bully their sense of satisfaction.
Stay in control. This is a game - a nasty game, but a game. Learn the rules of the game: it's about power and control. Tell yourself repeatedly that the threats, accusation, allegations, criticisms etc have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with you - they are a device for taunting, a fabrication, a deception, but most of all, a projection of the bully's own weaknesses, shortcomings, and failings. Every nasty word is an admission by the bully about themselves.
Sometimes the accusation, allegations, criticisms and taunts contain within them a grain of truth. This grain of truth is there to fool you into thinking that all the abuse is true, which it isn't. DON'T BE FOOLED by this trick.
Become a detective. You can work out who is calling and pursue a course of action which will call them to account. It's unlikely you will have the resources to do this by yourself, so get help.
It's almost certain that you know the person who is sending you abusive text messages or calls. Think through your list of "friends" and family and ask yourself who might be doing this. You might be surprised at how close this person is or how well you know them. The most common triggers for bullying are rejection, jealousy and envy - who might this apply to?
If the bullying gets out of control, consider getting a second mobile phone and giving the number only to close family. Give the number to only one person at a time and keep a careful log of who you've given it to and when. Oblige everyone to whom you've given it not to give the number to anyone else. Do this in collaboration with a trusted parent and don't tell anyone else that you are keeping a diary. Regard your old mobile phone as a source of evidence. Every abusive call is a more evidence. If the calls reach such a level that you need to involve the police, perhaps they might want to look after your old mobile phone. Then there's a peculiar delight in knowing that every time the bully makes abusive calls or posts offensive text messages these are going straight to the police station.
Links and articles
May 2005: One in five young people bullied by mobile phone or via the internet [More]
March 2005: Study reveals 40 percent of students claim to have been bullied online [More]
In the UK the law is weak but you may be able to use the Protection From Harassment Act, which has both civil and criminal provisions. Bullying, especially by mobile phone, is very similar to stalking.
More information on dealing with abusive phone calls is on the abusive calls page.
Details of people, sites and organisations who can provide information, advice and support are on the links page.
See also Mobile Phone Bullying from Bullying Online.
My page on cyber and internet bullying.
Cyber bullying leaves its scars: the psychological effects of cyber and mobile-phone bullying more severe than face-to-face abuse: http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,11114029%5E421,00.html
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