Cyber Tips

Stand Against Cyberbullying: The Power of Pink Shirt Day

Pink Shirt Day is February 28th. This annual event is an important reminder of how bullying affects young people and reminds us to move through the world with more empathy, inclusivity, and kindness. It’s also a good opportunity to examine the role bullying plays in our digital lives. In 2022, nearly half of American teens reported being cyberbullied. And with most youth dialed in with devices and computers at home and school, cyberbullying is a real cause for concern. Let’s look at ways to support our young people against cyberbullying on Pink Shirt Day and all the days.

Pink Shirt Day

What is Pink Shirt Day? 

Pink Shirt Day originated in Canada in 2007 when two high school students took a stand against homophobic bullying by wearing pink shirts to school. Witnessing a fellow student being bullied for wearing pink, they decided to act. They bought and distributed pink shirts to their peers, sparking a movement that has since spread worldwide. Today, Pink Shirt Day is observed annually on the last Wednesday in February with participants wearing pink to symbolize their stance against bullying. Each year, more countries join the movement, organizing events, distributing pink shirts, and raising awareness about the importance of fostering respectful and inclusive environments. This international participation underscores the universality of the issue and the collective determination to combat bullying in communities, schools and online.  

What is Cyberbullying? 

Cyberbullying, a form of bullying via digital devices, poses unique challenges. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying can occur around the clock, invading victims’ homes and personal spaces. It takes various forms, including hurtful messages, spreading rumors, sharing embarrassing photos or videos, and impersonation. Because the harassment happens behind screens, bullies may go further than they would in person—emboldened by perceived anonymity. 

The Impact of Cyberbullying 

The impact of cyberbullying can be severe, resulting in emotional turmoil, depression, anxiety, and in some cases, even prompting thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Those targeted often experience feelings of loneliness and powerlessness, as cyberbullying’s online nature makes it hard to escape. Victims often feel isolated and helpless, as the digital nature of cyberbullying can make it difficult to escape. And then there’s the permanence of online content. Harm can be inflicted indefinitely, affecting victims long after the attack.  

Who’s at Risk? 

Anyone can be cyberbullied, but some youth statistically are more at risk:

Online Sextortion & Youth 

A surge of sextortion cases, dubbed a “Digital Pandemic” by the Network Contagion Research Institute, has tragically led to many young lives being lost. In the US, Australia, the UK, and Canada, young people are falling prey to scammers on social media who feign romantic interest. These scammers invest time in “friending” and following  as many teens from a school or target location as possible to appear genuine.  

Statistically, teen boys are the most frequent targets. The scammer adopts the guise of an attractive teen to lure the victim into private messaging. Subsequently, they’ll send a compromising photo and request one in return, starting the blackmail process if the victim complies. The criminals use high pressure tactics to force the young person to somehow find money, often sending hundreds of threatening messages on multiple platforms over a short period of time. The young person feels trapped, panicked and isolated. The shame of the compromising photos and personal texting prevents them from asking for help, sometimes with devastating consequences.  

How Can Parents & Caregivers Help 

Establish a household rule: Keep electronic devices like phones, tablets, and gaming systems out of your kids’ bedrooms after 9pm to promote better sleep habits and limit late-night distractions. Consider using a cyber security app to control access to devices to set time limits and schedule screen time.  

Be watchful: Regularly check your child’s phone for direct messages from strangers and any explicit photos or videos that may have been saved. Look for signs of cyberbullying: 

  • School or social avoidance 
  • Increased or secretive use of devices 
  • Sudden dramatic decrease in device use 
  • Poor performance in school or extracurricular activities  
  • Signs of depression or anxiety   

Share stories of teen victims: Discuss cases of other youth who’ve been victimized with your kids. It’s an opportunity to model empathy and support while demonstrating to your young person that you know these crimes are happening. Be gentle and look for signs of distress during the conversation. It’s heavy—for everyone—but try not to be over emotional or fearful. If you can play it cool, your teen may open up about their experiences or concerns. This is a good time to encourage them to talk to someone if they witness bullying of any kind.
 

Come up with a plan: Even if your teen isn’t keen on conversation, you can provide them with directions for what to do if they find themselves in a difficult situation. You can liken it to a fire escape plan to help normalize the concept. Keep it short and simple. Consider printing out the following bullet points and include links and phone numbers to crisis lines:  

  • Think before sharing. Pause and consider the consequences before sending intimate photos or texts. Once shared, you lose control. 
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy or pressured, exit the conversation. 
  • Cease contact if threatened. Stop all communication and take screenshots before blocking the extortionist. 
  • Never pay. Paying only fuels further harassment; cybercriminals won’t stop if you pay. 
  • Seek help. Talk to a trusted adult or contact a helpline if you’re not comfortable telling your parents 

Reassure your teen: Teens need a lot of reassurance—even if or especially when they distance themselves from their parents. Let them know that there’s nothing they could do to diminish your love for them and that you’ll always stand by them. Even if it feels like your words aren’t landing, your teen will get the message if you’re consistent with your reassurances.   

Consider cyber insurance: Cyberboxx Home covers the costs of experts to help respond to cyber extortion, cyberbullying, or trauma. Additionally, BOXX Academy delivers cyber awareness training to prevent breaches.  

Take Action 

Bullying affects people physically, emotionally and mentally. Showing up for Pink Shirt Day is a first step in the right direction. But what more can you do? A lot, actually.  

At home, parents and caregivers can work to foster open communication with kids about their lives, online and IRL. 

Educators and community leaders can play a crucial role in creating supportive environments where young people feel empowered to speak out against cyberbullying. 

Advocate for policies and initiatives that address cyberbullying at the institutional and legislative levels. This includes promoting digital literacy, implementing anti-bullying policies in schools and workplaces, and supporting resources for victims of cyberbullying.  

Make a donation or organize a fundraiser for Pink Shirt Day. Net-proceeds from sales go directly to helping children build healthy self-esteem with themselves and their peers. 

Speak up. If you feel safe, intervene when you witness bullying. If the situation is too uncomfortable or dangerous, report the incident. Encourage your kids to do the same.  

Need Help Now? 

In Canada:

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Text ‘686868’ 

BullyingCanada  

Call toll free: (877) 352-4497 and follow the prompts to access their Lifeline Support Team 

Text anytime: (877) 352-4497 

Cybertip.ca 

Report online sexual exploitation of children  

 

In the US: 

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741  

Stopbullying.gov: Call or text 988 

No Bully Help Hotline: 1-866-488-7386 

 

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