Cyberbullying is at an all-time high and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Rarely does a week go by that I don’t hear from a teen, or from their parents, about some type of harassment online. Some adolescents are relentlessly bullied with no relief, as social media saturates the home and school environment. Bullies are not a new discovery, but technology has given them a new platform in which to harass their victims. As kids, many of us were taught the old saying ” Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”, but we all know that words do hurt and can have a serious impact. Ongoing cyberbullying can leave victims at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. In very extreme cases, some kids have turned to suicide**.
For adolescents, social media is a fundamental means of communication and a crucial part of their social lives. Unfortunately, there are some teens who use this technology to taunt, harass and bully others.
A 2016 report from the Cyberbullying Research Center indicates that 33.8% of students between 12 and 17 were victims of cyberbullying in their lifetime. Conversely, 11.5% of students between 12 and 17 indicated that they had engaged in cyberbullying in their lifetime.
Bullying, in general, can have a tremendous negative impact on a child, and cyberbullying adds another disturbing component. Technology allows the cyberbully to spread messages instantly to hundreds of people, which are usually irretrievable. In addition, because technology gives the bully the feeling of being ‘removed’ and anonymous, attacks can be extraordinarily cruel.
Parents are right to be concerned about this issue and are often at a loss to understand or to know what to do. Two of the most frequent questions I receive from parents are: 1) What constitutes cyberbullying and 2) What should I tell my children to do if they become a victim of a cyberbully?
The following are some of the more common forms of cyberbullying:
- Flaming: Online fights using electronic messages with angry and vulgar language.
- Harassment: Repeatedly sending offensive, rude and insulting messages.
- Cyberstalking: Repeatedly sending message that include threats of harm or are
highly intimidating; engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety.
- Denigration: “Dissing” someone online. Sending or posting cruel gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships.
- Exclusion: Intentionally excluding someone from an online group, like a “buddy
list” or a game.
- Trolling: Intentionally posting provocative messages about sensitive subjects to
create conflict, upset people, and bait them into “flaming” or fighting.
- Impersonation: Breaking into someone’s account, posing as that person and
sending messages to make the person look bad, get that person in trouble or
danger, or damage that person’s reputation or friendships.
- Outing and trickery: Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information
online. Tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information, which is then shared online.
How to Respond*:
- Ignore the bullying; don’t prolong it by engaging with the perpetrator or forwarding hateful messages to others.
- Save the evidence to show to parents, school administrators and the police, if necessary.
- Don’t feel shame; tell your parents or a trusted adult and report cyberbullying incidents to school or local authorities.
- Protect yourself from further bullying by blocking offending e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers.
Change phone numbers, e-mail addresses and screen names if necessary.
(*A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute)
Having trusted people your children can turn to for encouragement and support will boost their resilience when being cyberbullied.
Encourage them to reach out to connect with family and true friends. And though we can’t guarantee that our own children might not be on the receiving end of a cyberbully, we can instill the important lesson to always treat others the way we want to be treated, with kindness, respect, and compassion.
**If your child is feeling hopeless or helpless or know someone that is, please call the LIFELINE at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)