Sticks and stones may break my bones - and words can hurt me too!


This activity aims to develop people's awareness about abuses of information communication technology (ICT) in general, and cyberbullying in particular.

Related rights

• Right to freedom of thought, opinion and expression
• Freedom from interference with privacy, family, home and
• Freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment


• To widen awareness about the abusive use of mobile phones and
  the Internet
• To develop skills to think creatively and find ways to fight "cyber
• To foster empathy and solidarity

  • Flipcharts and pens
  • List of statements
  • Tape or string to mark a long line along the floor

Read the tips for facilitators and have a broad overview of what cyberbullying is, how it is manifested, the ways of addressing it. Research so you have a basic idea of the laws against cyberbullying in your country.

Key Date
  • 8 FebruarySafer Internet Day


1“Sticks and stones may
break my bones, but words will never hurt me”
is often atttributed to slaves during the time of slavery in the US. The
idea was that if the overseer only cursed you and called you humiliating names, then that was much better than receiving brutal lashes from his whip.

1. Start with a brief brainstorming session on bullying. Ask participants to take a couple of minutes to think about bullying, what it is and how it is manifested.  Then collect their answers and write them on a flipchart.
2. Do the same again with a clean sheet of flipchart paper, this time thinking about cyberbullying, what it is and the forms it takes. 
3. Mark a line on the floor with tape or string that you call the "yes line". Ask the participants to line up in two straight lines, one on either side of the "yes line".
4. Explain that you are going to read some statements about cyberbullying and that you want them to respond, but without using any words. If they can answer "yes" to a statement, they should take a step sideways onto the "yes line." They should respond honestly.
5. Read out the first statement. Give people time to think and respond. Then ask them to look around and take a note of how many there are on the "yes line".
6. Ask people to return to the starting lines and read out the next statement.
7. At the end, draw everyone into a circle and move on to the evaluation and debriefing.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

Start with comments about the statements and people's experiences and then go on to talk about how common the different sorts of bullying are and how to tackle them.

  • What did you know about cyberbullying before you did this activity?
  • Are all the statements serious enough to be labelled cyberbullying? Why? Why not?
  • Are there other ways of cyberbullying that have not been mentioned?
  • How common is cyberbullying in your community and in your country?
  • Which human rights does cyberbullying violate?
  • Why do people bully? Why do people become victims?
  • Why is it that people who have been victims sometimes go on to bully others?
  • What can be done to stop cyberbullying? By the victim? By others?
  • What can you do to protect yourself against cyberbullying?
  • Which human rights are at stake when people are bullied?
  • Article 19 of the UDHR states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Should there be limits to freedom of speech? If yes, what are the consequences and who should decide the limits? If freedom of speech should not be limited, what are the consequences?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

Bullying and cyberbullying are sensitive issues and you should be prepared for some participants to become emotional as they remember bad experiences. People who have been bullied feel guilt and shame; they do not see themselves as victims and those who bully may not fully realise why they are doing it. Thus, before tackling the topic of cyberbullying, prepare yourself well and consider whether or not you want to call on someone with expertise in the area to assist you.

Examples of how to respond to bullying include:

  • Do not reply to threatening or defamatory messages
  • Blacklist email accounts
  • Change your email address
  • Change your Internet service provider (ISP)
  • Change your mobile phone account
  • Keep the abusive messages as proof
  • Share the problem with someone you can trust. If you are a child, you will have to involve an adult at some point.
  • In certain circumstances you can confront the bully. Arrange a meeting with a mediator and try to help the bully understand the consequences of their actions.
  • In some cases, it may be advisable to inform the local police department or consult a lawyer.

Note that it is not recommended that you retaliate, that is, bully the bully back, because such behaviour can lead to civil actions or criminal charges against you.

Examples of actions people can take to protect themselves from bullying include:

  • Limit computer connection time – don't be online all the time.
  • Never open email messages from sources you do not recognise.
  • Change your passwords regularly.
  • Do not put a lot of personal data in your profile.

The most important thing for participants to learn from this activity is that it is necessary to speak out and share the problem whenever they experience or witness it.

Education is the key to preventing bullying in the first place and to stopping it once it occurs. The mechanisms are complex and the causes different in every case, but both the victim and the bully need to understand the social and psychological forces that are operating in order to be part of the solution. People who become victims are likely to be shy, sensitive, anxious, and insecure, have low self-esteem and lack social skills. Physical traits that tend to be picked on are being overweight, physically small, having a disability or belonging to another race, religious or social group. People who bully do it because it is a way for them to feel better about themselves, feel important, and control other people. If others are doing it, they may think they will be popular or "cool". Bullying is also a way of getting attention, getting what they want or of punishing people they are jealous of.

VariationsGoto top

A lot of people who have been bullied become bullies, so it's important to get people to think about personal responsibility. After reading the statements, carry out a second round based on the same statements, but this time made from the point of view of the person who bullies. People don't move onto the "yes line", but stand in their lines and reflect. For example, "Have you ever opened someone else's email box without the consent of the user?" and "Have you ever used someone else's mobile phone without their consent?"

If bullying is an acknowledged problem, then you might like to tackle the topic at a deeper level. Forum theatre is a good way to develop understanding about the causes of bullying and ways to tackle it. Ask people to get into small groups to talk about true-life incidences of bullying. They can be an episode that they experienced or that someone they know experienced. Each group should choose one example they wish to work on.  The participants should try to imagine the reasons for why the bully is bullying, how the bullying actually happened, what happened afterwards and what the consequences were. The groups should then develop their work into a short play to present to the rest of the group. After the performance, re-run the final scene, "what happened as a consequence", and ask the "audience" to make suggestions about alternative actions that the victim could have taken.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

Make a slogan for an anti-cyberbullying campaign.
Make an anti-cyberbullying policy for your school or club, or review the policy if you already have one.
You may like to explore other aspects of violence through the activity "Violence in my life".

Ideas for actionGoto top

Use the ideas in the second variation above and show the play to other classes, youth groups or parents.
Arrange a public debate about the issue in your school or club because many teachers and parents are not aware of what is going on.
Find out if there is a local information campaign about the risks and abuses of ICT and find out how you could contribute.

Further informationGoto top

Cyberbullying is the use of email, instant messaging, chat rooms, pagers, mobile phones, or other forms of information technology to deliberately harass, threaten, or intimidate someone. It can include such acts as:

  • Making threats
  • Sending provocative insults or racial or ethnic slurs
  • Gay bashing
  • Attempting to infect the victim's computer with a virus
  • Flooding an email inbox with nonsense messages
  • Posting or spreading false information about a person with the aim of harming the person or their reputation
  • Singling someone out and inviting others to attack or make fun of him or her.
  • Pretending to be someone else to make it look like as if the other person said things he or she doesn't believe or that aren't true about him or her.
  • Sharing images of a person, particularly in an embarrassing situation, without his or her permission.
  • Sharing emails without the writer's permission.
  • Pressuring others to exclude someone from a community (either online or offline).
  • Repeatedly sending someone nasty, mean and insulting messages.

Cyberbullying is often done by children, but is by no means confined to children. One of the biggest challenges in combating cyberbullying is that the bully is anonymous, which makes him or her difficult to trace. 
There are many sites on the Internet about tackling cyberbullying. Use a search engine to find out about local initiatives. General information can be found on the following websites:

Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime
The Convention, which came into effect on July 1 2004, is the first international treaty on crimes committed via the Internet and other computer networks, dealing particularly with infringements of copyright, computer-related fraud, child pornography and violations of network security. It also contains a series of powers and procedures such as the search of computer networks and interception. Look at and search for treaty No. 185.


• Has anyone ever opened your email box without your consent?
• Has anyone ever read any of your text (SMS) messages without your consent?
• Has anyone ever sent you insulting messages, nasty pictures or videos, either to your mobile phone or email?
• Has anyone ever sent information / pictures / videos of you to someone else without your consent?
• Has anyone ever posted pictures or information about you on a website or social network site without your consent?
• Has anyone ever manipulated / transformed any of your pictures or videos without your consent?
• Have you ever given your passwords to anyone else?
• Has anyone ever insulted you in an interactive game room or in a chat?
• Have you ever received disturbing / nasty phone calls?
• Has anyone ever made inappropriate comments on your blog / social networks?
• Has anyone ever sent false / nasty information / rumours about you by email or SMS?
• Do you know anyone who is a victim of cyberbullying?
• Do you know that there are special laws for this kind of violence?
• Do you think there should be limits to what people can place on the Internet?
• Is it right to forbid mobile phones in schools?

HandoutsGoto top

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