Cyberbullying or cyber harassment is a form of bullying or harassment using electronic means. It is also known as online bullying.
It has become increasingly common, especially among teenagers, as the digital sphere has expanded and technology has advanced. Cyberbullying is the use of cell phones; instant messaging, e-mail, chat rooms or social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to harass threaten or intimidate someone. Cyberbullying is often done by children, who have increasingly early access to these technologies. . It is repeated behavior, aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted. Examples include:
- spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos or videos of someone on social media
- sending hurtful, abusive or threatening messages, images or videos via messaging platform.
- Impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others on their behalf or through fake accounts.
Face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying can often happen alongside each other. But cyberbullying leaves a digital footprint – a record that can prove useful and provide evidence to help stop the abuse. When bullying happens online it can feel as if you’re being attacked everywhere, even inside your own home. It can seem like there’s no escape. The effects can last a long time and affect a person in many ways:
- Mentally: feeling upset, embarrassed, stupid, even afraid or angry
- Emotionally: feeling ashamed or losing interest in the things you love
- Physically: tired (loss of sleep), or experiencing symptoms like stomach aches and headaches
The feeling of being laughed at or harassed by others, can prevent people from speaking up or trying to deal with the problem. In extreme cases, cyberbullying can even lead to people taking their own lives. Cyberbullying can affect us in many ways. But these can be overcome and people can regain their confidence and health.
Effect on mental health
When you experience cyberbullying you might start to feel ashamed, nervous, anxious and insecure about what people say or think about you. This can lead to withdrawing from friends and family, negative thoughts and self-talk, feeling guilty about things you did or did not do, or feeling that you are being judged negatively. Feeling lonely, overwhelmed, frequent headaches, nausea or stomachaches are also common. You can lose your motivation to do the things that you usually enjoy doing and feel isolated from the people you love and trust. This can perpetuate negative feelings and thoughts which can adversely affect your mental health and well-being. Skipping school is another common effect of cyberbullying and can affect the mental health of young people who turn to substances like alcohol and drugs or violent behavior to deal with their psychological and physical pain. Talking to a friend, family member or school counselor you trust can be a first step to getting help. The effects of cyber bullying on mental health can vary depending on the medium through which it happens. For example, bullying via text messaging or through pictures or videos on social media platforms has proven to be very harmful for adolescents.
Some statistical findings are as follow:
- Girls are more likely than boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying. 15% of teen girls have been the target of at least four different kinds of abusive online behaviors, compared with 6% of boys.
- About half of LGBTQ+ students experience online harassment — a rate higher than average.
- Instagram is the social media site where most young people report experiencing cyberbullying, with 42% of those surveyed experiencing harassment on the platform.
- Young people who experience cyberbullying are at a greater risk than those who don’t for both self-harm and suicidal behaviors.
Victims may experience the following effects after being cyber bullied:
- Decreased Self-Esteem: Bullying of all kinds is often detrimental to the victim’s self-esteem. Victims may believe that all of their peers dislike them and develop issues with trust and confidence.
- Emotional Distress: Cyberbullying can lead to a shift in mood or emotion in the victim. The constant stress of the attacks can make victims prone to outbursts of frustration, sadness, or anger as they try to cope with the bullying.
- Physical Symptoms: Victims may begin to develop frequent headaches, stomachaches, and trouble sleeping. Though they are not attacked physically by the bully, the ongoing stress of the harassment may still take a physical toll as the victim grows increasingly stressed and anxious.
- Depression: Cyberbullying can cause victims to develop depression. The constant stress and lowered self-esteem can cause them to feel hopeless, unloved, and sad.
- Suicidal Thoughts: A study published in ScienceDaily indicates that cyberbullying victims are twice as likely to attempt suicide or engage in self-harming behaviors. Bullying does not directly cause victims to commit suicide, but it does put them at a higher risk of doing so.
As cyberbullying becomes more common and widespread among teenagers and young adults, it becomes increasingly important for parents and teachers to prevent it from happening, to intervene when it does, and to respond appropriately to victims and bullies alike. Sharing cyberbullying information is a good way to start.
Even before they are old enough to use the internet, initiate conversations on internet. Be sure to keep this an open dialogue with your teen. You will likely need to have new discussions as their online activities change and new safety concerns arise.
Some important topics to discuss before your teen goes online include the following:
Educating Your Teen on Cyberbullying
In addition to general internet safety practices, educate your teen about what cyberbullying is and how to identify it. Make sure they know cyberbullying is not a joke. Just because their friends are doing it for fun does not mean that it is acceptable or that they have to participate. Keep the lines of communication open. Let them know they can always come talk to you if they experience or encounter any cyberbullying online. Reassure your teen that they will not face repercussions or a loss of computer privileges if they are being bullied.
How to Deal with a Cyberbully
Provide your teenager with the tools to deal with anyone who is rude to them online, including a cyberbully. Remember that informing an adult about cyberbullying can be difficult for teens, so they need to be prepared enough to handle the situation on their own.
Highlight the importance of common sense when dealing with a cyberbully:
- Do Not Engage
- Block Them
- Change Contact Info
- Make a Record
There is a need to find the right balance between supervising your teenager’s online activities and respecting their privacy. Talk with your teen about the degree to which you will keep an eye on them. They may not be thrilled at the prospect, but explain that this is important to maintaining their safety online and be sure to always be open with your teen if you choose to monitor their social media accounts or text messages. Avoid looking at personal content or messages without your teen’s consent; it can be a huge breach of privacy.