Facing the Facts of Cyberbullying

Online bullying: Girl being cyberbullied by two other girls

Behind the fun dings of text messages, Tweets, and Facebook updates, lies a dark world of virtual reality that many children find themselves immersed in. According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of teens report going online daily, including 24 percent who say they go online “almost constantly.”

Because of the increasingly seamless way of communicating, there are more opportunities for children and adolescents to face online bullying.

StopBullying.gov gives the following examples of cyberbullying:

  • Mean text messages
  • Rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites
  • Embarrassing pictures, videos or websites
  • Fake profiles

While bullying is often disruptive, it can even end tragically such as the case of 14-year old Sydney Sellers, who hung herself after being bullied online and at school.

With the increasing amount of children and teens with an online presence, Goshawn Chawla, MD, child and adult psychiatrist at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, said, “I believe families need to be more involved in kids’ lives without being intrusive and be more on the lookout for extreme changes in emotions, behavior or reactions to things.”

He noted the common signs parents should look for:

  • Possible prolonged use to media or Internet, phones or apps
  • Being withdrawn or isolated
  • Emergence of new self-injurious behaviors
  • New defiance behaviors to parents

Fear is another major sign of children who may be experiencing cyberbullying.

According to a May 15, 2015 article in U.S. News and World Report, which analyzed data from the Department of Education, fear was slightly more frequent among victims of cyberbullying than traditional bullying: About 1 in 8 students who had been cyberbullied said they feared attack or harm at school.

The article also stated that cyberbullying affected students’ behavior more than traditional bullying. Students who were cyberbullied were more likely to:

  • Skip school
  • Avoid school activities
  • Avoid specific places at school
  • Carry a weapon to school

An earlier Health eConnect blog by Jason Webb lists more signs of bullying.

How to address cyberbullying with your child

“All kids are not going to be open about their feelings and what is going on in their personal life,” Dr. Chawla said.

Because parents and teachers spend more time with children than a health professional, he emphasized how important building a therapeutic alliance is with a child.

Not every kid reacts to cyberbullying in the same way.

“Some kids ignore it altogether or they retaliate and the bullying may stop,” Dr. Chawla said. “Some kids are affected more and they think about day and night.”

If bullying is starting to impact a child’s life academically or at home, then a psychiatrist or therapist may need to be brought in to provide further assistance.

How to help stop cyberbullying

While parents can monitor their child’s web browsing and cell phone usage to help ensure their child’s safety online with parental-control apps , they should also be aware of  non-traditional social media sites such as anonymous parent-proof phone apps that can also lead to cyberbullying.

While parents can monitor and  restrict the amount of time or access children have to the online world, students need to be as informed as parents to spot and stop bullying and cyberbullying. Students can watch out for each other like with the app STOPit that allows students to anonymously report acts of online bullying.

For more information on cyberbullying and how to prevent and report it, read more on http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/.

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