Writing Memoir

How to deal with Internet bullies (and trolls, and real bullies too).

I’ve been bullied – online and in person.

In high school, a boy, let’s call him R, decided to start off class by giving us a speech. His theme, how flat I was. His insults rolled off like a rap sheet, how I had a flat face, flat nose, flat chest, flat ass, flat everything until finally I yelled back, “Fuck you!”

And that’s when the teacher, let’s call him Mr. H, stepped in,“Lani! Do you want to go to the principal’s office?” I was as shocked at Mr. H’s reaction as I was at R’s terrible taunt. Looking back, Mr. H probably was too intimidated to confront R for his behavior. I guess it was easier to admonish me instead.

Bullying is gaining news, you know. Internet bullies, children being bullied online, and the extreme cases of teenagers committing suicide over bullying. Just Google it and you’ll find the news.

A sample of the statistics on cyber bullying tells us, “Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once” and “only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.”

There is advice out there, but I wonder if it fails to reach the right ears. Parental supervision of Internet use and guidelines appears to be rare, if it happens at all. This is interesting because most, if not all parents would teach and supervise their child on how to drive a car, but for some reason, because our children are really good at computers, we think they don’t need to know the rules.

Some folks believe that children learn to be bullies from their parents. This idea seems a bit rough-around-the-edges harsh, but our children do learn from watching/listening and copying. As a teacher, I’ve witnessed the retelling of a parent’s political views, for example, “Bush sucks,” by a 6 year old, as well as other copycat gems in and out of the classroom.

When I was a teenager, I was harassed for being different, and well, responding with my middle finger or yelling back actually didn’t help. One time I was walking alone, in the middle of the day, wearing the kind of clothes that simply were not popular in 1980s Hawaii. An acid wash denim jacket with my heavy metal patches, like Megadeth sewn on the back, and different colored socks stuffed in my high-top Nikes.

A car full of girls slowed down to yell things at me about my socks and clothes, and I immediately pulled out my middle finger. That should have been the end of it, but this was Hawaii, where fighting and confrontations were very common (at least when I was growing up). The girls whipped that car around and started following me, and taunting me.

When I started to cry, they laughed. I was in a residential area and there was really nowhere for me to go, but I went down a side street anyway to get off the main drag, and stopped. There they continued to tease me. I was terrified they would get out of the car. Sure, I’d been in fights, but there was no way I could take them all on. When I yelled, “Leave me alone!” They laughed and jeered.

Eventually, they left.

Much more recently, I received this anonymous comment on my teaching blog: After reading your articles, I can see why you were fired. Thank you for leaving the Waldorf teaching profession. Our kids are much safer now that you are not teaching. People like you should never teach children.

Ouch. So, the person didn’t agree with my politics. No need to be nasty, right? But I didn’t delete it. I guess I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t open to criticism or that I was afraid of opposing thoughts. Although, this remark was simply mean considering my blog is about my experience as a Waldorf teacher, getting fired and getting over it.

But worst, I was privately engaged in an email exchange (again, about my blog), last year, in which I was being bullied. Here’s what I learned.

1. Talk to someone. Even after I apologized several times, the person still harassed me, and continued to attack. After I felt like I had tried everything and this person wasn’t going to stop, I realized I could no longer shoulder this fear alone. I picked up the phone and when my friend didn’t answer, I called another.

Soon, I began talking freely to my friends. I needed the support, got support and gained support. No one could understand why this person was attacking me, except to guess, I was an easy target. I’m friendly, funny and kind, so maybe folks think this makes me weak. Nevertheless, it was liberating to talk. And my friends reminded me that next time, come to them sooner.

2. Disengage. Just stop. By picking up the phone, I gained this valuable piece of advice from someone older and wiser than me. So I stopped emailing, defending, and trying to make it better. And you know what? It worked. I couldn’t believe it. I’d wait in fear, not wanting to open my email, but as the days went by, I gained more and more hope that this was the end.

3. Stop feeling bullied. I realized and recognized that I felt bullied, but I was also allowing those feelings to freeze and confuse me. Searching online, I noticed a lot of advice on the Internet comes from a clinical standpoint, but I must say, trying to reason, “Oh, that person is horrible, hurt, or sad in their own way”, doesn’t really help. Sure, it’s good to take a step back and analyze the bullies, but does it help you?

If it does, that’s great. But if it doesn’t (as was my case), move on. Sometimes we have that round and round conversation with our friends or in our heads, and you have to know when to just stop trying to find answers.

Talking helps a lot, but don’t forget you are in control of your feelings. That ‘mind over matter’ talk does really work. At least it helped me. Even with the above troll comment, I let that person have their say, I didn’t reply, and I didn’t let their words have power over me.

That being said…

4. Focus on what you like about yourself. I know that sounds super cheesy. And you don’t have to write it down or anything (but why not), create a list of the qualities you like about yourself. Are you a pretty damn good artist? Can you sing? Do you like your legs? Can you make your friends smile? Focus on your strengths. You have them. We all have them.

5. Help and advice can come in unexpected ways. But you have to let people know what is going on. I remember during my senior year in college feeling utterly discouraged and UGLY over the fact that no boy that I asked out ever said yes.

Now, at the time, in Hawaii, you could, instead of taking a class, be a teacher’s assistant. I helped my guidance counselor for one class period. And I remember slumping into Mr. Kelly’s chair and announcing, “I hate boys.”

He probably leaned back in his squeaky green chair like he always did, and said, “Why?”

“Because they don’t like me. I’m ugly. I asked J to the junior prom and he said no. They always say no.”

Mr. Kelly popped his chair back up, “Oh, Lani. Boys are stupid.”

That got my attention.

“Teenage boys are afraid. They’re probably terrified of girl like you. Trust me. Hang on. One more year Lani. When you get to college they will be running after you.”

I dried my tears. Thanked Mr. Kelly, and felt better. And I waited until college. He was right.


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12 thoughts on “How to deal with Internet bullies (and trolls, and real bullies too).

  1. Another great post. I loved what you said about not letting the words have power over you. Our son and daughter-in-law are both teachers. Over the years she has had her share of bullying from parents and the old guard teachers that thought her ideas for incorporating “new technology” ie: a locked down Facebook page for all hee classes where students could ask her questions or chat about science stuff were, to the locals……like voodoo!

    There were many time in her 10 years at that school she wanted to quit but………….there was this one girl. We will call her A. A had terrible home life and was couch surfing at friends houses, had no food and not much sleep. My DIL listened, gave her food, helped and encouraged her and by the time she graduated she was enrolled in an Art School. They are very close friends and A is thriving! But we know deep in our hearts that if it were not for a caring teacher A would not be the woman she is today.

    Who are your success stories? You may never know, but they are there.

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    1. Thanks Lin for sharing your daughter’s experience. I love hearing these kinds of stories, stories of kindness and overcoming odds. Interesting what you said about the parents. While I’ve certainly had my fair share of parents throwing their weight around, I can’t say they were bullying me, but I did feel helpless many times. We all want to be in control, and I think bullying is a form or extension of wanting to be in control.

      “Who are your success stories?” is a good question. I don’t know. I think many folks don’t share their bullying stories out of pure embarrassment.

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  2. Yes Lani, once again a great blog! I remember being teased at school as well- I had these huge lips( that back then weren’t so popular), and my mother shopped at thrift stores for my clothes, so I got teased about my clothes from the girls and my big ” bongo” lips as they called them from the boys. In elementary there was this boy I liked, we’ll call him M. M told me that he couldn’t go out with “brown girls”, and especially ones with big lips- so I always thought I was an ugly duckling and I hated my big lips! Years later I ran into M, and he barely recognized me, he went on to tell me how different I looked , and then asked me out! So my comment to him was, I’m still brown with big lips, so I can’t… that was my victory! ( I know, childish- but I still was!) And over the years I’ve grown to like my big lips.I also, learned from my daughter ( whom is 13) not to respond to people’s ugly comments- this girl left a facebook comment to my daughter which was down right nasty! As a parent you feel like you have to save the world for your children- well in my case, I wanted to kick that girls you know what! I told her to reply back with this and that ( nastier comments), not the best example, I know.. but my daughter in this case was the mature one, and said Mom- I’m not even going to entertain her… wow, I was so impressed by her maturity! I asked her had she heard anything back from this girl, and she said no she never left comments again.
    As far as being able to reach out to someone- yes, I agree, very important! We all need a healthy support system. And that person who left that comment about you quitting, was more than likely jealous of a quality that you have and they saw that people loved this quality about you, and they were dying to possess this quality too, but couldn’t, so they in turn just wanted to be ugly… too bad for them!
    You are an awesome person, and forget those who want to poo on you!! ( me being who I am, would give them the middle too- just sayin’)

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    1. Thanks dear. Your comment brought a big smile to my face this morning. Such a lovely way to start the day, eh? 🙂 And yes, big lips are SO fashion now. Girls go through all that injection stuff, and use lip pumping products to make their lips fuller and fatter. Ha haha! You got the last word in! And I don’t have if it’s immature, I liked what you said to that guy.

      I was cruelly teased for having a flat nose when I was a child. It wasn’t until college when I was taking a bio anthropology class did I learn that my features are “very Asian” – I know that sounds silly, but it was the flatter nose bit and even the reasons why. Interestingly, for the Eskimos, their flatter noses helped them to keep warm/not let in so much cold air. I just remembered when the skulls from Java man and Peking man were being passed around, feeling better about my features, feeling a connection. I’m okay now, my nose never gets in the way of kissing 🙂

      Glad to hear your daughter decided to not even bother with that nasty comment – such a smart one. I think if we could all learn to disengage, quicker and more often, conflicts wouldn’t escalate and get out of control. Ah, I’m ready to be perfect now! Cheers Katy, xxoo.

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  3. NIce, Lani! This is such an important topic and you gave some seriously good steps as to how to deal with the very difficult issue of bullying. Bullies are losers!! I think your acid wash outfit was super cool and they were all jealous. Really, that’s always the reason bullies attack.
    I don’t know who originally said it, but I like that quote that says “People like to throw rocks at things that shine”.
    Very, very true.
    Shine on sistar!
    ~Andrea<3

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    1. Thanks Andrea. I’ve never heard that quote before! Yeah, I’m not sure what got me going on that bullying post. I must have read something and then it got me fired up. Writing is so cathartic for me – I usually just get it down and (almost) forget it 🙂 xxoo

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  4. I don’t comment on your posts as often as I should and that’s partly my aversion to adding a silly little comment after those far more insightful than I have expressed my shared feelings on the topic du jour and I feel like a crumb bum adding his pitiful little “I agree with what the last commenter said. I liked it, too!”

    I actually thought this post was well-written, amusing and a bit sad, which isn’t really different from most of the posts you share.

    See? Doesn’t that just read as an oogie tag-along comment?

    Sigh, I give up. Go on and bully me. I won’t report you to Mr. H. or hurl and expletives your way.

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    1. Your comments though, inevitably make me laugh or at the very least smile. But I know what you mean, sometimes it takes effort to find the right words, to say “I agree” in a new way, but from blogger to blogger, we know how much those words mean…

      “Well-written, amusing and a bit sad,” huh? Hot damn, I’m melancholic.

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  5. I really like this Lani! We always need to focus on what we like about ourselves, even when not being bullied. We just need to be reminded of how awesome we really are! Great post, as always!

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    1. Thanks for the reminder yourself. I needed to hear that 🙂 Sending you holiday cheers from this side of the globe, xxoo

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