Tweens and teens who want to combat cyberbullying and make their schools and social communities safer and kinder places now have a handbook that offers advice and proven strategies for staying safe online.
"Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral," to be released this week, is the first book written specifically for middle and high school students on cyberbullying and the importance of standing up for themselves and others online, said Dr. Justin Patchin, the book's co-author and a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
"This book speaks directly to tweens and teens who have been cyberbullied or who are tired of seeing others being bullied," said Patchin, a nationally recognized expert on cyberbullying. "A lot has been published to help parents, teachers and other adults understand cyberbullying, but there were no resources for teens. By giving teens tools and strategies that they can easily use, we're empowering them to delete cyberbullying."
The book addresses the origins of cyberbullying, provides practical and proven advice for teens to confront cyberbullying, and provides tips for teens to better manage their online reputations, said Patchin, who coauthored the book with Dr. Sameer Hinduja, professor of criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University. Co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Patchin and Hinduja have studied teen use and misuse of technology for 10 years.
Through surveys and presentations across the country, Patchin has interacted with thousands of tweens and teens who have been cyberbullied, bullied others or witnessed bullying.
The book includes dozens of real-life stories from the many teens who have shared their cyberbullying stories with him, Patchin said. Some of the teens featured were bullied or bullied others, while others worked to stop bullying in their schools.
Providing strategies for those who want to step up when they see others being bullied is an important part of the book because research shows that a majority of tweens and teens — up to 70 percent — have not been bullied online but almost all of them have witnessed others being cyberbullied, Patchin said.
"Most teens see it happening to classmates and they don't know what to do to stop it or how to respond," Patchin said. "They're intimidated or afraid that they'll become a target if they try to intervene. We're giving them strategies so they can do something other than stand by when they see cyberbullying. We're also giving teens who might be tempted to join in the bullying reasons to think about why they shouldn't do it."
Saving screen shots of hostile tweets, knowing when to confide in a trusted adult and understanding privacy settings on social media platforms are examples of the practical tips and tools shared in the book, Patchin said.
Real-life scenarios outlined in the book will help students think about what strategies might work — or might not work — in particular situations, Patchin said.
"It's not a one-size-fits-all kind of approach," Patchin said of the book. "We talk about what has been proven to work, but we also talk about possible pitfalls depending on the scenario. We give them advice and tools to deal with run-of-the-mill problems, but we also equip them to recognize when they need more help in dealing with a problem."
The book also encourages teens to think carefully about their online profiles, noting that long-term negative consequences can result if they are careless about what they share online, Patchin said. Young adults have lost jobs, scholarships and admission to their preferred college because of what they'd posted online as teens, he said.
"We include practical and tested tools and advice for helping teens improve their social networking skills and manage their online profiles," Patchin said. "We want to empower them so they can respond to hateful messages aimed at them or their peers, as well as make smart choices about their own behavior online."
While cyberbullying often makes headlines, research shows that just 10-15 percent of teens actually engage in cyberbullying; 85 percent of teens are using technology responsibly, Patchin said. Yet, not surprisingly, parents and schools often address cyberbullying concerns by restricting access to technology for all students, he said.
"One of the messages we want to get across to teens is that it's in everyone's best interest to reduce or eliminate cyberbullying," Patchin said. "If they can help make that 15 percent number smaller, it's going to make life better for everyone."
One increasingly popular strategy among teens for combating cyberbullying is the idea of making kindness go viral, Patchin said, noting that a chapter in the book is devoted to the kindness concept.
"This part of the book turns the conversation about teens and technology upside down because it focuses on the positive ways teens are using technology to promote kindness," Patchin said. "We talk about how teens are confronting bullying in their schools by promoting kindness through social media. I think many tween and teen readers will embrace the idea and move it forward in their own schools."
Among the teens promoting kindness who are featured in the book is a high school football player from Osseo, Minn., who, tired of the bullying he was seeing at school, began a "Nice it Forward" movement. He created a Twitter feed, "@OsseoNiceThings," where he tweets nice things about his school and classmates. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and teens across the country have been following his lead, Patchin said.
"It's powerful to see how teens are creatively using technology to make positive differences in their schools and to see how strongly other teens are responding to it," said Patchin. "This kindness idea is really catching on, especially in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The making-kindness-go-viral chapter may have the biggest impact on our readers."
While the book was written for teens, Patchin said educators and other adults will find it valuable as they work with tweens and teens to address issues relating to cyberbullying. A companion guide to their book will help teachers and youth leaders lead discussions and activities around cyberbullying and technology, he said.
"We need a coordinated response to cyberbullying," Patchin said. "Teachers, parents and other adults need to be involved. But teens should be part of the mix and they want to be part of the discussion. If we give them skills, encouragement and proven strategies, they will take the lead in making our schools and communities safer and kinder places."
"Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral," published by Free Spirit Publishing, will be available online and in stores beginning Dec. 3.