Cyberbullying is a form of harassment using electronic means also known as online bullying. It has become increasing common among teenagers due to digital technology advancement. Cyberbullying is when someone bullies others on the internet particularly on social media sites. Harmful bullying behavior include posting rumors, threats, a victim’s personal information or hate speech. It is important to remember that one instance of mistreatment cannot accurately be equated to bullying, as it must involve harmful behavior of a repetitive nature.
Emotional Effects of Cyberbullying
Because cyberbullying occurs in cyberspace, online bullying feels permanent. Kids know that once something is out there, it will always be out there. They can feel exposed, embarrassed, and overwhelmed. When cyberbullying occurs, the nasty posts, messages, or texts can be shared with multitudes of people. The sheer volume of people that know about the bullying can lead to intense feelings of humiliation.
Cyberbullying sometimes causes kids to be excluded and ostracized at school. Consequently, they often feel alone and isolated. When cyberbullying occurs, parents sometimes recommend shutting off the computer or turning off the cell phone. But for many kids, using these devices is considered the most important way they communicate with others. Turning them off often means cutting off their connection with their world, which can make them feel more secluded.
Research indicates that anger is the most common response to cyberbullying. Some kids that are victimized may even plot revenge and engage in retaliation.
Mental Effects of Cyberbullying
Depression and Anxiety
Cyberbullying also can erode self-confidence and feelings of self-worth, which can contribute to depression and anxiety.
Kids being victimized by cyberbullying may lose interest in school. As a result, they often have much higher rates of absenteeism than non-bullied kids. They may skip school to avoid facing the kids cyberbullying them or because they are embarrassed and humiliated by the messages that were shared online.
Suicidal Thoughts and Self-Harm
Sometimes targets of cyberbullying respond to their intense feelings by harming themselves in some way. For instance, some might engage in self-harm such as cutting or burning themselves. Cyberbullying also increases the risk of suicide. Kids that are constantly tormented by peers through text messages, instant messaging, social media, or apps often begin to feel hopeless and that the only way to relieve the pain is ending their life.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying?
While there is no foolproof way to prevent your child from ever being cyberbullied, there are things you can do together to reduce the likelihood they will be targeted including implementing safety measures as well as having ongoing conversations about what constitutes cyberbullying.
Protect Accounts and Devices
When it comes to preventing cyberbullying, and similar behaviors like catfishing, it’s important that your child use passwords on everything. Passwords are one of the most effective ways to protect their accounts and their devices. Also, emphasize that your child should never share their passwords with anyone, including their best friend. Even though they may trust their best friend implicitly, the reality is that friends come and go and there is no guarantee they are going to be friends forever.
Use Privacy Tools and Settings
No matter what your teen does online, make sure they are aware of the privacy settings and tools offered by the organization. Almost every social media platform including, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have privacy settings. Go through each account with your child and help them set their privacy settings to the safest and most secure settings. This means making accounts private, preventing people from tagging them, requiring other people to get permission before sharing one of their photos, and so on.
Keep Personal Stuff Private
Kids should never share their address, cell phone number, or email online. They should even be careful about sharing too much information about where they go to school, especially if they have friends or followers online that they don’t know really well. Remind them that people are not always who they claim to be online. Even though the profile photo is of a teenage girl, that doesn’t mean the person behind the account is actually a teenage girl. It could be someone pretending to be a young girl in order to gather information on other teens. So, they need to keep their information as secure as possible.
Teach Them to Think Before Posting
Help your tweens and teens get in the habit of taking some time before posting. For instance, they could create a post offline and then come back to it in an hour and decide if they still want to post it. Doing so will keep them from posting things in the heat of the moment that they may later regret. Cyberbullies make take what your child posted and use it against them in some way, so it might be helpful to encourage your child to take time to think before posting. Of course, if someone wants to use something against them, it won’t necessarily matter what the content is. But by taking their time to craft a post, they will be able to think through what they are posting and determine whether or not they it’s something they want to say publicly. This is a good practice for kids either way in order to maintain a healthy relationship with social media.
Make sure your child knows that they should always report cyberbullying. This includes not only telling you what is happening, but also letting the social media platform, internet service provider, and any other necessary parties know what is going on. You may even need to contact the school or the police to put an end to the harassment. Once all the reports have been filed, take the appropriate steps to block the person or account responsible for the cyberbullying. Doing so, doesn’t prevent them from using a different account or a public space to continue to cyberbully your tween or teen, but it will slow them down somewhat. Teens also should learn to be good bystanders too. If they witness cyberbullying online, they should refrain from participating in the cyberbullying and instead look for ways to support the person being targeted. They also should report what they witness online to a responsible adult like you, a teacher, or a principal—especially if they know who is doing the cyberbullying.
More often than not, kids are cyberbullied by the people they already know from their school or their community. So standing up for the person being targeted can help prevent future cyberbullying incidents, especially if the cyberbully is not getting the reaction they want.