Most parents may find it difficult to relate to today’s form of cyberbullying. That’s because, for many of us, bullying might have come in a series of isolated, fleeting moments such as an overheard rumor, a nasty note passed in class, or a few brief hallway confrontations.
Fast forward a few dozen decades, and the picture is spectacularly different and a world few adults today would eagerly step into.
Cyberbullying includes targeting that is non-stop. It’s delivered digitally in an environment that is often anonymous. It’s a far-reaching, esteem-shattering, emotional assault. And the most traumatic component? The perpetual nature of the internet adds the ever-present threat of unlimited accessibility—kids know bullying can happen to anyone, at any time, and spread like wildfire.
The nature of cyberbullying can make a young victim feel hopeless and powerless. Skipping school doesn’t stop it. Summer vacation doesn’t diminish it. That’s because the internet is ever-present.
According to a 2020 Ditch the Label Cyberbullying Study, youth today reveal that carrying the emotional weight of being “connected all the time” is anything but fun and games. Here’s a snapshot.
- Bullying has increased by 25% each year since the survey’s inception in 2006.
- 46 % of the respondents reported being bullied more than once, and 20% reported bullying others on social networking sites.
- 33% of young people surveyed said that they believe the behavior of politicians influences how people treat each other at school.
- 25% of those surveyed say they feel “lonely all of the time.” (Executive commentary added that since the onset of the pandemic onset, those numbers have increased).
- 50% of those bullied felt targeted because of attitudes towards their physical appearance.
- 14% of respondents said they never like themselves; 24% said they do but rarely.
- 42% of youth respondents revealed they have battled with anxiety.
- 25% said they deal with depression; 21% with suicidal thoughts.
- Leading mental health stressors include school pressures, exams, body image, feelings of loneliness, and grief.
Who Is Most Vulnerable?
While all kids are at risk for cyberbullying, studies reveal that some are more vulnerable than others.
According to the Pew Research Center, females experience more cyberbullying than their male counterparts; 38% of girls compared to 26% of boys. Those most likely to receive a threatening or aggressive text, IM, or email: Girls ages 15-17.
More data from the CDC and American University reveals that more than 28.1 % of LGBTQ teens were cyberbullied in 2019, compared to 14.1% of their heterosexual peers. In addition, Black LGTBQ youth are more likely to face mental health issues linked to cyberbullying and other forms of bullying as compared to non-Black LGTBQ and heterosexual youth.
Another community that can experience high cyberbullying is gamers. If your child spends a lot of time playing online games, consider paying close attention to the tone of conversations, the language used, your child’s demeanor during and after gaming, and, as always, stay aware of the risks. In a competitive gaming environment that often includes a variety of age groups, cyberbullying can quickly get out of control.
Lastly, the reality no parent wants to confront—but one that is critical to the conversation—is that cyberbullying and suicide may be linked in some ways. According to JAMA Pediatrics, approximately 80% of young people who commit suicide have depressive thoughts, and in today’s online environment, cyberbullying often leads to more suicidal thoughts than traditional bullying.
5 Things Parents Can Do
- Be a Plugged-In Parent. If you haven’t already, make 2022 the year you double up your attention to your kids’ online activities and how they might be impacting them emotionally. Kids connect with new people online all the time through gaming platforms, group chats, and apps. Engage them. Understand what they like to do online and why. Be aware of shifts in behavior, grades, and sleeping patterns. Know the signs that they may be experiencing online bullying.
- Layer Up Your Power. Kids need help with limits in a world of unlimited content and parents get busy. One remedy for that? Consider allowing technology to be your parenting partner—additional eyes and ears if your will—to help reduce the risk your kids face online. Parental controls on family devices can help you pay closer attention to your child’s social media use and assist you in filtering the content that’s rolling across their screens. Having the insight to connect your child’s mood to the time they spend on specific apps may provide a critical shortcut to improving their overall wellbeing.
- Prioritize Community. Feeling supported and part of a solid offline community can make a significant difference in a child’s life. One survey of teens aged 12-17 found that social connectedness played a substantial role in reducing the impact of cyberbullying.
- Don’t prohibit, limit. If you know your child is having a tough time online, it’s important not to overreact and restrict device use. They need peer connection. It’s their culture. Consider helping them balance their time and content online. Please talk about the pros and cons of specific apps, role play, teach them how to handle conflict, and encourage hobbies and meetups that are not technology dependent.
- Provide Mental Health Support. We are living in unique times. The digital, cultural, social, political, and health concerns encircling our kids remain unmatched. Not all signs of emotional distress will be outward; some will be subtle, and some, even non-existent. That’s why it’s essential to consistently take the time to assess how your child is doing. Talk with your kids daily, and when you notice they may need additional help, be prepared to find resources to help.
Each new year represents 365 new days and 365 new chances to do things a little bit better than we’ve done them in the past. And while it’s impossible to stop our kids from wandering into the crossfire of hurtful words online, we can do everything possible to reduce their vulnerability and protect their self-esteem.
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