Our children are growing up in the midst of a fully digital life. There are few areas that are not influenced by the Internet. Even something as human as social interaction has been greatly affected by the Internet and social media. In many ways, this technology allows open and free communication with nearly anyone.
As with all things, there is also a down side to all this open communication. For our children, this connectivity comes at the expense of their social privacy and vulnerability. Cyberbullying has become a major danger for youth and continues to be more and more common, with girls suffering more frequently than boys.
How does cyberbullying affect teenagers
Cyberbullying isn’t just a social problem. Children and teens that have been cyberbullied are more likely to report:
- higher levels of depression and suicidal ideation,
- increased emotional distress,
- externalized hostility, and
- delinquency (e.g. alcohol use, drug use).
In addition to the emotional stress, being bullied can lead to physical changes such as:
- sleep disturbances,
- gastrointestinal problems (e.g. diarrhea, constipation, ulcers), and
- chronic pain.
How can we spot a cyberbully
Interestingly, traditional face-to-face bullying tends to decrease by ages 16-17 years but cyberbullying remains steady throughout adolescence. The aggressor of cyberbullying is generally a powerful member of their peer group and high-status aggressors tend to be perceived as popular, socially skilled, and leaders.
Most cyberbullying aggressors do not see themselves as a bully. They see their behavior as natural and normal within the context of their peer socialization. It is unclear why this occurs, however some potential reasons may be their position of power within their social network, a lack of empathy for others, learned negative behaviors related to online communication, or the positive response they receive from their attacks.
Youth who are victims of cyberbullying frequently viewed the aggressor as a “friend” or someone they “thought was a friend.” This reality can make it harder for the victim to cope with the situation because it brings into doubt the quality of their friendships. Additionally, this causes children and teens to feel extremely victimized and vulnerable.
How to prevent cyberbullying on children and teens
Unfortunately, most children and teens do not tell an adult when they are being cyberbullied. This happens because they don’t want parents invading their privacy, they think that parents aren’t prepared to understand the situation or to help, and they fear that their access to social media will be removed or limited.
Yet, parents can help prevent cyberbullying from a broader social environment perspective. Four things parents can do now to help prevent bullying include:
1. Teach the values of tolerance and empathy
- Help children see that the world needs every type of person.
- Support emotional intelligence.
- Be a good role model – speak well of people and limit judgment.
2. Bring awareness to what bullying is and how it occurs
- Ask children and teens to share their point of view.
- Avoid interrogating children and teens.
- Point out examples when words become hurtful and show how the same message can be sent in a more respectful way.
3. Take notice of and try to reduce all types of aggressive behaviors
- Do not tolerate hitting, threats, or domineering behaviors
- Ask about feelings to help children express their needs in a less aggressive way
4. Improve social skills
- Teach the golden rule: Treat others as you want to be treated
- Values that support the Golden Rule include:
All adults, especially parents, should pay attention to both the aggressor and the victim in cyberbullying. The aggressor needs to be stopped and corrected, but more importantly, it is vital to learn why they want to bully or to make them aware that what they are doing is hurting someone else. Victims need support to overcome the feelings of isolation and tension that happen after an attack. The solution includes both the aggressor and the victim. Cyberbulling should not be accepted but addressed from an understanding that all children are going through their own challenges. Teaching positive values from a young age can help lower this risk in future generations of children and teens.
Board on Children, Youth and Families; Committee on Law and Justice; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. (2016). Committee on the Biological and Psychological Effects of Peer Victimization: Lessons for Bullying Prevention (Rivara F. & Le Menestrel, S. (Eds.)). National Academies Press: Washington DC.
Board on Children, Youth and Families; Committee on Law and Justice; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Health and Medicine Division; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. (2016). Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice (Rivara F. & Le Menestrel, S. (Eds.)). National Academies Press: Washington DC.
Waasdorp, T. E. & Bradshaw, C. P. (2014). The overlap between cyberbullying and traditional bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health 56, 483-488.
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About the instructor
Dr. Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.