In recent years, bullying and cyberbullying have become a widespread problem. It is the most frequent form of abuse adolescents face.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, roughly one in four students experience bullying.
Cyberbullying is any bullying performed via cell phones, social media, or the Internet in general.
Recent studies prove that bullying in any form has serious and physical effects on mental and emotional health.
“This new study that came out of Europe looked at over just about 600 adolescents, young adults, showed that bullying actually led to structural changes in the brain, particularly in the areas related to depression and anxiety,” said Dr. John Lusins, medical director of Bayview Behavioral Hospital.
Because of technological advancements, cyberbullying has become a widespread problem, reaching young kids faster than ever before.
“Kids don’t ask for help typically because they are experiencing depression because it is difficult to just talk or find somebody to talk to in that time and space as an adolescent in general, about your feelings,” Lusins said. “You are going through a lot of life changes as it is, and also, you don’t want to appear to be outside your friends’ group or to appear weak.”
Seventy percent report being bullied face-to-face and more than 40 percent via cyberbullying.
“If you notice they are shutting down social media accounts, avoiding the use of their phone, or else won’t let you access their phones, and also, if they exhibit signs of anxiety and depression, including changes in behavior outside their norm, these could all be signs of cyberbullying,” said Lusins.
So understanding how this type of harassment affects children, as well as how lasting the effects are, is important in order to determine what kinds of interventions are necessary.
“The introduction of the cyberspace has made bullying that much easier,” Lusins said. “It is difficult for teachers to monitor and for parents to monitor, however, we recommend they tell their students there are places they can go and people they can talk to. Their guidance counselors, teachers, and of course, if it gets to that point, always mental health professionals.”
For more information contact: South Texas Mental Health Associates
It is important to understand how children are cyberbullied so it can be easily recognized and action can be taken. Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics include:
* Posting comments or rumors about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing.
* Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to kill themselves.
* Posting a mean or hurtful picture or video.
* Pretending to be someone else online in order to solicit or post personal or false information about someone else.
* Posting mean or hateful names, comments, or content about any race, religion, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics online.
Along with other risk factors, bullying can increase the risk of suicide-related behaviors.
Furthermore, cyberbullying can be relentless, increasing the likelihood of anxiety and depression. Some states have chosen to prosecute young people who bully for criminal harassment, including encouraging someone to die by suicide.
Some forms of cyberbullying are forms of harassment that cross the line into criminal activity, and some tactics occur in dating relationships and can turn into interpersonal violence.
Warning Signs a Child is Being Cyberbullied or is Cyberbullying Others
Many of the warning signs that cyberbullying is occurring happen around a child’s use of their device.
Some of the warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying are:
* Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting.
* A child exhibits emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on their device.
* A child hides their screen or device when others are near, and avoids discussion about what they are doing on their device.
* Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
* A child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past.
* A child becomes withdrawn or depressed or loses interest in people and activities.
What to Do When Cyberbullying Happens
If you notice warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying, take steps to investigate that child’s digital behavior.
* Notice – Recognize if there has been a change in mood or behavior and explore what the cause might be. Try to determine if these changes happen around a child’s use of their digital devices.
* Talk – Ask questions to learn what is happening, how it started, and who is involved.
* Document – Keep a record of what is happening and where. Take screenshots of harmful posts or content if possible. Most laws and policies note that bullying is repeated behavior, so records help to document it.
* Report – Most social media platforms and schools have clear policies and reporting processes. If a classmate is cyberbullying, report it the school. You can also contact app or social media platforms to report offensive content and have it removed. If a child has received physical threats, or if a potential crime or illegal behavior is occurring, report it to the police.
* Support – Peers, mentors, and trusted adults can sometimes intervene publicly to positively influence a situation where negative or hurtful content posts about a child. Public Intervention can include posting positive comments about the person targeted with bullying to try to shift the conversation in a positive direction.
It can also help to reach out to the child who is bullying and the target of the bullying to express your concern.
Digital Awareness for Parents: While you may not be able to monitor all of your child’s activities, there are things you can do to prevent cyberbullying and protect your child from harmful digital behavior:
* Monitor a teen’s social media sites, apps, and browsing history, if you have concerns that cyberbullying may be occurring.
* Review or re-set your child’s phone location and privacy settings.
* Follow or friend your teen on social media sites or have another trusted adult do so.
* Stay up-to-date on the latest apps, social media platforms, and digital slang used by children and teens.
* Know your child’s user names and passwords for email and social media.
* Establish rules about appropriate digital behavior, content, and apps.
Parents who want to protect their children from cyberbullying, harmful digital behavior, and exposure to adult content can use parental control and monitoring software to help them set up systems that are less invasive to their children.