Breathe Before You Post

Breathe Before You Post To Avoid Cyber Harassment By Lisa-Michelle KucharzAt some point in your life, you probably witnessed someone who became anxious or angry being asked to breathe deeply to calm himself or slow down a response, whether it was an angry coworker who wanted to share a heated rant in a meeting or an infuriated athlete who missed a key play.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California demonstrated that taking a deep breath informs the body to relax. “You can calm your breathing and also calm your mind,” shared Dr. Mark Krasnow, professor of biochemistry at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

We can apply this research to help people calm their minds before they engage in negative online communication that may have ramifications and cause regret. The key to applying breath as an intervention to alter behavior is to recognize potential pitfalls. Once aware of triggers, a person can acknowledge challenges in real-time and immediately employ deep, controlled breathing to inform his mind to relax.

According to Esther Sternberg, physician and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, slow, deep breathing calms us down. “When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.”

Like many people, I’ve encouraged youth and adults to “think before they post” but, even though it’s sound advice, it may not be enough in some situations. Thinking alone may not be what we need to distance ourselves from a heat-of-the-moment online disaster. Taking a few slow, deep breaths can calm our minds and give us a chance to address challenges with clarity and serenity. Once calm, we can better think about what to post — or whether or not to post at all.

But, not all breaths are created equal. To fully benefit from the calming effects of breathing, your breath needs to be controlled, slow, and deep. Sit or stand comfortably, and place your hands at your sides, on your thighs, or in a comfortable position. As you slowly inhale, fill the lower portion of your abdomen, then the middle, and then your chest. After a brief pause, slowly exhale the entire breath. Some people suggest making a long shhhhh sound on the exhale for further focus.

After taking a moment to breathe deeply, you should be able to approach online communication calmly and with a level-head. If taking a few breaths weren’t enough, take a few more.

Deep breathing is a great intervention to prevent reacting poorly and engaging in online abuse or cyberbullying, because everyone can learn how to do it, and it’s absolutely free.

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Signs Your Child May Be Experiencing Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying Teenage Girls - Lisa-Michelle Kucharz Blog

More than 20 young people took their lives due to cyberbullying in 2017, and many more attempted suicide. Last week, The Philadelphia Tribune shared that 20% of children think about suicide after experiencing cyberbullying and one in 10 attempt it, according to data from CyberBully Hotline.

The number of youth experiencing cyberbullying is startling. According to the Pew Research Center, one-third of all teenagers who use the internet have been the target of abusive online behavior — receiving threatening messages, nonconsensual forwarding of private emails or text messages, rumors being spread about them, and nonconsensual sharing of embarrassing photos. Today, cyberbullying is not just a threat to teenagers, with at least 15% of all children experiencing it.

As we hear of more incidents, we learn that in most cases parents were unaware their child was a victim of cyberbullying or the extent of the abuse. According to a recent University of Phoenix study, “only one in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.”

Cyberbullying can have devastating effects, so it’s imperative parents learn to recognize the signs their child may be experiencing online abuse:

  • Changes device screen, closes apps, or hides device when adult enters room.
  • Jumpy when receiving notifications or in general around their devices.
  • Becomes unusually upset when cannot use devices.
  • Constantly checks devices.
  • Uses devices at all hours.
  • Stops using devices.
  • Changes in behavior or moods.
  • Decreased or increased appetite.
  • Trouble sleeping or frequent nightmares.
  • Increased school absences or uneasiness to attend.
  • Decline in grades or interest in school.
  • Avoidance of social activities and situations.
  • Loss or changes in friendships.
  • Decrease in self-esteem.

Some of the above signs may indicate other challenges, including in-person bullying, or mental or emotional health issues. If your child is exhibiting any of the signs, initiate an open, comfortable conversation to understand what may be happening. Remember that your child may not want to discuss it with you, and may be afraid of blame or having electronic devices removed. Show support, and discuss the options for handling the situation. It also may be helpful to provide your child with counseling, if necessary.

If your child is experiencing online abuse, you don’t have to face it alone. Reach out to one of the organizations helping parents address cyberbullying:

Cyberbullying is common and on the rise. Help your child stay safe by recognizing the signs and addressing challenges with online abuse as soon as they happen. Learn more about additional resources.

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Establishing a Cyberbullying Task Force — Update on New York State Legislation

Updated on June 15, 2018

Many of you have asked about the status of advocating for cyberbullying prevention legislation in New York. While some states recently have added or amended legislation to protect youth against cyberbullying, New York State still does not have laws which define or address cyberbullying.

After New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky introduced a bill in the Senate on February 6, 2018, Assemblymember Didi Barrett sponsored a version in the Assembly. The latter is now co-sponsored by David Buchwald, Carmen De La Rosa, Christine Pellegrino, and Rebecca Seawright.

The bills would establish a task force to explore the effects of cyberbullying in New York and potential measures to address such effects.

The task force would conduct a comprehensive study on the effects of, and potential methods to address cyberbullying, including processes for school districts to develop cyberbullying prevention policies; procedures for school districts to assist individuals in reporting cyberbullying; procedures for school districts to implement to ensure prompt and thorough investigations; identifying existing staff to assist school districts in responding to incidents, such as counselor services, support services, or intervention services; a suggested statement about prohibiting reprisals or retaliation against any person who reports cyberbullying and the consequences for a person who engages in reprisal or retaliation; how often a school district should conduct a reevaluation and review of its cyberbullying policy; methods school districts can use, such as grants, to fund programs regarding cyberbullying; identifying the most common victims of cyberbullying by age, ethnicity, religion, gender, or any other identifying characteristic the members of the task force deem relevant; determining the most common mediums used in cases of cyberbullying, including but not limited to, text messages, websites, and social media; identifying the social and psychological effects of cyberbullying on individuals; reviewing measures other states or legislative bodies have taken to address cyberbullying; drafting model regulations that may be promulgated by this state to address cyberbullying; and drafting model policies that may be implemented by a school district to address cyberbullying. Read more about Senate Bill S7678.

Establishing a cyberbullying task force is a great first step to address and prevent cyberbullying, and I applaud the legislators who already are supporting the bills.

The last day of the 2018 session for the New York State Legislature is June 20. The bill is not currently scheduled to be discussed, or brought to a vote in the Senate or Assembly. If it is not discussed and passed by June 20, it will be held till the next session in 2019.

If you reside in New York, please reach out to your senator and assemblymember to encourage support of this important legislation to help create a safer cyber-world for our youth.

Find your New York State senator.

Find your New York State assemblymember.

If your state or country doesn’t have legislation to address cyberbullying, reach out to your elected officials and explain why this is an important issue to you and how legislation can help address it.

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