Bullying has always been a problem with kids, but something has changed. In modern times, there is a new component to these acts of aggression: the Internet. Especially with the advent of social media, teens have new avenues for targeting and bullying peers. It does not require much imagination to discern the harm bullying can cause: low self-esteem, depression, lack of friends, and, in some cases, suicide.
Bullying In the Modern World
Bullying refers to acts of aggression that are targeted at an individual. Bullying is more than just picking on someone. Teasing the smart kid every once in a while or making fun of a kid who accidentally wore his shirt backward to school one day are not incidences of bullying. When a bully is in action, he or she picks one other kid to torment and attacks him day after day. The attacks can be physical, verbal, or a combination of both.
Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have given us novel ways to communicate and connect online. They have also given bullies a new way to attack. Targeting someone through social media can be even more harmful than traditional bullying because it gives the bully a bigger platform. Anyone on the bully’s or bullied child’s friends list or feed can see what is happening. The shame of being targeted in this way can be great.
Cyberbullying is not always about social media, though. Any kind of targeted attack through the Internet or by using a cell phone can be considered cyberbullying. Most teens these days have their own cell phones, which means a bully can send harassing texts, pictures and make calls to a target. Modern bullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thanks to technology, making a target feel unsafe at all times.
Connection Between Cyberbullying and Mental Health
It should come as no surprise that there are devastating effects of cyberbullying on kids and teens. Recent research shows that teens that are bullied are more likely than their peers to become clinically depressed, to abuse substances and to have an Internet addiction. The connection also goes the other way. Kids who are depressed or who abuse drugs are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying. It is not a long leap from the above effects of cyberbullying to suicide. Not all teens who are depressed will be suicidal, but there have been enough incidents of suicide preceded by cyberbullying to make it a serious concern.
Signs of Cyberbullying
If you are the parent of a child or teen, keep your eyes open for the signs of cyberbullying. The best way to know what is going on with your child is to have a strong, open and communicative relationship. Even if you do, however, your child may hide things from you. Here are some things to look out for:
- Suddenly no longer using the computer or cell phone
- Acting nervous when a cell phone rings or alerts a text has been received
- Resisting going to school
- Becoming withdrawn from family or friends
- Seeming to be upset after using the computer or receiving a text
- Acting secretive about computer or cell phone use
What You Can Do
As a parent, it is important to protect your children. This is not always easy in the age of Internet and cell phones. For this reason, it is necessary to be aware of what your child is doing online and with his cell phone. It may seem like an invasion of privacy, but remember that your child’s well-being is at stake. Always ask questions about what he is doing online, what sites he is visiting, and if he is experiencing any kind of bullying. Have access to his accounts and social media sites, and make sure you are “friends” with him, or follow him on all his social media sites.
At the same time that you monitor your child’s Internet and cell phone use, establish rules for them. Talk to your child about appropriate use of technology, what sites they can and cannot use, and be very clear about your rules. Limit his time using his devices as well, and encourage him to use technology in a thoughtful way, not simply as a way to pass the time. By being aware of what your child is doing, establishing open lines of communication, and setting rules, you go a long way toward protecting him from cyberbullying.