IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Social media can bring friends and family together, but it also causes many troubles for teens through cyberbullying.
“I’ve overdosed, I’ve tried hanging myself, and cutting myself to the point where I needed stitches," Abbie Ellison, a victim of cyberbullying said.
Ellison says she used to be a bully, until the tables turned in sixth-grade when she was cyberbullied through Facebook and Snapchat.
“People decided to gang up on me and call me a whore," Ellison said.
It even began to affect her family members.
“It got to the point where even my brother wasn’t safe at school anymore," she said.
The bullying turned physical at school, with classmates tripping her in the hallways. It all became too much.
"It got to the point where in December I had tried overdosing because it had gotten so bad and I had felt so bad," she said. "And I was in treatment for seven months and when I came home it had continued over since I had been gone, but it also started out with new people that I didn’t even know.”
Ellison has moved schools four times, trying to escape the bullies.
"It makes me really mad because the schools aren’t doing anything about it," she said. "Like, unless you have proof, unless you have an alibi, they’re not going to do anything.”
The schools recognize that cyberbullying is a huge problem.
“Trying to safeguard and protect against cyberbullying because it’s become an epidemic in this country," Ken Marlow, principal at Discovery Elementary, said.
According to a report by Educents, an educational marketplace, Idaho has a 21.1 percent cyberbullying rating. It's the highest in the country.
“Cyberbullying is worse because it’s there 24 hours a day," Daniel Sperry, school resource officer, said. "Where traditional bullying in a school, they would go home from school and the bullying stopped, they could get away from it, escape from it at home. Now they go home and it pops right back up on their screen.”
One mental health therapist says the bullies have issues themselves.
“It’s so easy for people just to hide behind their screens," Karl Winegar said. "People who are bullying are certainly people with poor self-esteems themselves generally speaking. They need a way to feel powerful. They need a way to feel good about themselves and often have great pain going on in their lives so they’re reaching out in an easy way to do that through cyberbullying.”
Teens typically experience it the most. One of the biggest effects is depression.
“This is something that starts their belief system about themselves and who they are as people in their young teens, sometimes pre-teen ages," Winegar said.
Some signs to look for are if they become more isolated, and in some cases do not want to go to school. There may be evidence of self-harm, such as cutting. They may wear baggy clothing to cover up. There may also be a change in their personality, eating and sleeping habits.
“Parents should be vigilant in teaching their youth how to appropriately use social media," Winegar said. "Understanding private versus public pages and understanding that they are who they are as people. So, get them engaged in other things that will teach them their identity in adolescence.”
“The biggest weapon I guess that we have against cyberbullying is just being informed," Marlowe said. "So I would encourage all parents to have access to their children’s phones and the technology that they use."
If someone is cyberbullied, take screenshots and save any evidence. It could help in the future.
“The victim has a phenomenal amount of power," Sperry said. "They can get on, they can block the person who is sending it, they can report it. Facebook, a lot of these messengers, have reporting for inappropriate behavior”
Ellison says her new school is helping to keep the past bullies away. And she has a message for them.
“I’d just like to say that it’s not cool," Ellison said. "That if you’re being one of those monsters you need to stop because words kill people. Whether it’s on screen, verbally…yeah."
Schools do have resources available if your child is being bullied. You can report the bullying and speak to counselors.