Sticks and stones may break your bones, but in the era of the Internet, words can really, really hurt. Cyberbullying – or cybervictimization – is a fast-growing problem. It’s a form of bullying that lives on the Internet, creating a “playground” for millions of young people.
Defining Online Bullying
Cyberbullying is defined as any form of tormenting, threats, harassment or humiliation instigated by children or teenagers against other minors, either online or with cellphone technology. If adults are involved, it is called cyber-harassment or cyberstalking.
Because technology is rapidly advancing, it’s difficult to assess the reach of cyberbullying. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 7 percent of students in grades 6–12 had experienced cyberbullying between 2013 and 2014. And the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that 15 percent of high school students had been bullied online or by electronic devices.
All forms of cyberbullying are damaging to kids’ physical and psychological well-being. Messages and images can be distributed anonymously online, often protecting the bullies from being penalized. And it can be difficult to erase images or messages from the Internet once they’ve been sent out.
The Terrible Effects of Cyberbullying
A 2013 study found that that cyberbullying can have an adverse effect on mental health, especially among teenagers. Researchers from the University of Deusto in Spain took things a step further and discovered that teens showed symptoms of depression, Internet addiction and substance abuse within six months of experiencing cyberbullying.
In some cases, cyberbulling can lead to suicide. Take 16-year-old David Molak, for example. Molak took his own life back in January after enduring months of cyberbullying from his peers.
“The problem is that cyberbullying has become more mainstream with the advance of technology,” said Dr. Joel Haber, clinical psychologist and bullying expert. “It’s more important than ever for parents to teach kids how to be good citizens online, just as much as offline.”
Make Your Child a Priority
Many of the kids being cyberbullied today choose to remain silent; they’re afraid of the backlash or rejection from peers. As a result, they hide it from their parents, teachers or other adults. According to statistics from the 2012 Indicators of School Crime and Safety, an adult was notified in less than half (40 percent) of bullying incidents.
There are certain signs and symptoms of cyberbullying, some of the most common include:
- Increased anxiety or depression
- Trouble focusing
- An unwillingness to go to school or socialize
- Difficulty sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Change in eating habits
- Low self-esteem
To protect your kids from cyberbullying, Haber urges parents to keep the lines of communication open. “Parents want to respect their kid’s concerns, but sometimes we have to put protection first. No one ever knows exactly how fragile or vulnerable their kid is,” he said.
“Kids like David don’t have the capacity to think about their life long-term. Most don’t think they can get past it.”
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