October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and this topic is very close to me. I grew up an adopted child that was teased for not looking like my family, for being adopted and, later, for being an overweight teen.
Today, bullying has completely changed due to our technologically advanced way of living. Bullying is now infinite and global. It's not an event or a happening. It's a story line that gets passed around and can haunt you for life. And it's no longer about a fist fight that ends with a black eye. It's now morphed into having embarrassing emails, photos and videos distributed without your knowing – messages that go viral among the entire school and community, forcing you to relive what happened for months or even years.
This is the world of cyberbullying. The effects are far-reaching and have led both children and adults to suffer far beyond the actual bullying event. In some cases, the bullying has been linked to suicide. So, how can you fight bullying when there's no clear solution to stop it?
First, we must all get a better grasp of what it is and how it spreads.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying includes intimidation, shaming or alienating people through the Internet and social media. It's instantaneous, viral, global and, in most cases, permanent. The definition of traditional bullying, according to the American Humane Association, is "an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person."
With cyberbullying, it can be harder to define who the bully is because even those who aren't initially involved and who may not intend to hurt anyone can contribute to and promote bullying by just viewing, commenting and sharing the hurtful event.
Another aspect of cyberbullying that differs from traditional bullying is how it can damage so many parts of the victim's life. It used to be that if you had an altercation at school, you went home to tell your parents, and you'd deal with it through school administrators, your so-called bully and maybe whoever may have seen the incident. But with cyberbullying, the harmful events can affect EVERY aspect of your life in a matter of seconds. It becomes inescapable.
Everyone you're connected with, from your friends to your parents and others' parents, will know what happened – it's a complete public shaming. Sexual cyberbullying is the newest and one of the most harmful forms of bullying and is targeted mainly at women and those in same-sex relationships.
There's nothing more shameful for women and girls than to have intimate photos of themselves exposed to the world by people they trusted or with whom they had romantic relationships. What's worse, the new wave of sexual cyberbullying is shaming women who, unbeknownst to them, have interacted sexually with others without knowing they were being filmed, photographed and, sadly, in some instances, sexually assaulted.
Sexual cyberbullying exposes its victims in their most vulnerable place. There have also been cases where teens in same-sex relationships have been "outed" against their will through this form of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying strips away your privacy; there is nowhere to hide. Research has shown that even one act of cyberbullying can lead to years of lowered self-esteem, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Who's Being Bullied: You're Not Alone
As our childhood obesity crisis continues, bullying threatens to become more prevalent as overweight and obese children are more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of such behavior.
But cyberbullying isn't just child's play anymore. More and more adults are being cyberbullied in the workplace. You may not see a fistfight break out in the office, but I'm sure you've seen a damaging email or photo circulate at work.
So, instead of trying to avoid bullying, it's time to fight back – but not with fists. It's time to turn the pain into passion. For me, passion is an antidote to bullying because passion is more powerful than the opposition.
Turning Pain into Passion
Unfortunately, bullying isn't going away. It happens to your children, your friends, your parents – to everyone. But being bullied isn't the issue; how you deal with it is. Inner strength is the anti-bullying solution, and you get it by taking your pain and turning it into passion through doing things you are good at, that drive you and that let you shine.
[Read: Confidence is the New Sexy.]
For me, fitness was my freedom, my passion, my antidote to bullying. Fitness helped build my confidence, my self worth. I was lucky to find what made me happy. Fitness may not be your passion or your kid's passion, but maybe it's music, dance, art or academics. When you find your passion, bullies no longer have a victim – they have a force to be reckoned with.
What is your anti-bullying passion? How can you help others develop the inner strength that it takes to rise above, instead of fade in the face of, cyberbullies? Consider how you can stop promoting bullying behavior, even if it's as simple as not sharing an email, photo or video. Be that person who promotes self-esteem and shares positive ways to treat and speak to people. Be the help you would want if you were cyberbullied.
And share passion. Whether it's dance, art or academics, find the people and activities that feed your inner strength. We can't stop bullying all together, but we can rise above it through passion.
[Read: Teen Stress: How Parents Can Help.]
Sound off … What's your cyber-bullying story? Whether you were a bystander, a victim or the bully, share your experience and what you did to rise above it.
Hungry for more? Write to email@example.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Well known for his work as a trainer on NBC's The Biggest Loser, Brett Hoebel is one of New York and Los Angeles' most popular fitness and nutrition experts. In addition to his certifications in nutrition, yoga and functional training, Hoebel was trained in martial arts (Capoeira and Muay Thai kickboxing) and has a pre-med, neuroscience background. He is the founder of Hoebel Fitness, a body-mind approach dedicated to inspiring healthy living, as well as the creator of in-home lifestyle-fitness programs RevAbs, reVamp, and his new 20 Minute Body program to debut in 2014. Hoebel believes in "fitness from within," acknowledging that a healthy life starts by changing yourself from the inside out.