United Way of Haldimand and Norfolk Takes a Stand Against Cyberbullying

May 11, 2021 – For Immediate Release

In a world that has required us to move online, there is no escape from cyberbullying. United Way of Haldimand and Norfolk has partnered with Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp and Grand Erie District School Board to spread awareness of cyberbullying and provide tips on how to help children experiencing it. Cyberbullying happens when technology is used to embarrass, threaten, or harass another person online. It is often done anonymously, which can create fear and distrust when the victim doesn’t know who is attempting to cause them harm. Victims of cyberbullying may experience feelings of anger, sadness, or anxiety that can lead to depression, eating disorders, chronic stress, and other health ailments.

Kristal Chopp, Mayor of Norfolk County, provides personal insight on her experience with cyberbullying. Upon starting her career in politics, Chopp says, “The cyberbullying started immediately. Since being elected, one man plead guilty to uttering death threats to me and others spend their days posting blatant lies about me across various social media platforms. Some of them hide behind fake profiles, so I don’t even know who is targeting me. Eventually the abuse became so repetitive and so offensive that it was eating me alive.”

After enduring years of cyber harassment, Chopp had the following to say about how she overcame it. “In the beginning,” explains Chopp, “I firmly believed that, as a politician, I should never block anyone from seeing any of my content. The advice to ‘just ignore it’ didn’t work for me. You can’t look at that negativity day in and day out and not have it affect you. So one day, I took my friend’s advice and for a couple of the harassers; block-block and block. Don’t be afraid to just shut out the negativity – it’s liberating. The abusers are still out there, and new ones always emerge, so I made a conscious decision to minimize using social media. That is a challenge in my position because of how great of a tool it can be to communicate your message, but I do my best to find other ways.”

When asked if Chopp had any advice for anyone dealing with cyberbullying, she said, “One thing I’ve learned is that no matter what you’ll never please everyone, so the most important thing is that through it all, you just keep being you.”

Children that experience cyber bullying may not tell their guardians in fear of having their electronic devices taken away. Some signs that children are being cyberbullied include:

  • Being nervous or jumpy when getting a message, text, or email
  • Changes in mood, behaviour, sleep, or appetite
  • Being upset after using their phone or a device to access the internet
  • Spending more time alone
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Being secretive of their ‘digital’ life
  • Suddenly wanting to stop using the computer or device
  • Avoiding discussions about computer or phone activities

Children that are experiencing worries or mental health struggles should contact the Haldimand-Norfolk Child & Youth Crisis Service run by United Way partner Haldimand-Norfolk REACH at 1-866-327-3224. The number is operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is confidential. This program supports children up to 18 years old and families/caregivers that are concerned about the mental health of a child or youth. If you are looking for support that is not urgent, you can contact the Haldimand-Norfolk REACH Child Clinical Services Walk-in Therapy Clinic on Tuesdays from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at 519-410-1502. This therapy session can help address a concern and come up with different helpful ways to think about things. This service is offered free, funded by United Way of Haldimand and Norfolk.

If you discover a child you know is being cyberbullied, have an open conversation and allow them to tell you what is going on without judgement or criticism. Stay calm and reassure them that you will not be taking away their phone or internet, and encourage them to talk to you about any harassing messages they receive. Discuss potential actions to help them determine what steps they want to take to deal with the situation. Actions can include blocking the bully, reporting it to your teacher or principal, or compiling the messages to report to the Ontario Provincial Police. Be sure to validate your children’s feelings and get them additional support if desired.

 “Here in Grand Erie, especially now that our learning platforms are virtual, our teachers are always looking for opportunities to educate students on how their online behaviour impacts the learning community. Thinking before you post, holding people accountable for what they say online and posting positive information can make for a more inclusive environment,” says Alison High, Principal at Valley Heights Secondary School at the Grand Erie District School Board. “When things do go wrong, the Board has a policy as to how schools will respond and it gives us an additional opportunity to remind us of the importance of continuing our work together with staff, students, families and communities to help raise awareness about social media and internet safety.”

“One of the best ways we can combat negativity online is to disengage and focus on spreading positivity,” states Brittany Burley, Executive Director of United Way of Haldimand and Norfolk. “It’s important that we model the behaviour that we wish to see, which is why I challenge everyone reading this to share something positive the next time you are online, whether it is complimenting a friend or writing a kind review about a local business. With one simple action, we have the power to brighten someone’s day.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying and needs support, please contact one of the numbers listed above.