As a therapist, I frequently hear my child and adolescent clients talk about cyberbullying and the effect it has on their lives. In a survey conducted last year, 33 percent of middle and high school students reported that they have been cyberbullied, and 17 percent of students reported that they had been cyberbullied within the last month. What is cyberbullying, exactly? Cyberbullying is the act of intentionally causing harm to others through the use of electronic devices, such as computers or cellphones. Some of the most frequent forms of cyberbullying include making hurtful comments, spreading rumors online, and posting embarrassing photos of others. Cyberbullying can be anonymous and it is difficult to escape given how interwoven technology is with our daily lives.
Fortunately, not all individuals become distressed when targeted by online bullies. Still, nearly 40 percent of students who have been cyberbullied report that these incidents made them “very upset or afraid.” This distress can lead to a drop in grades, lower self-esteem, and an increased risk of depression. Additionally, students who have been cyberbullied are more likely to later engage in cyberbullying themselves.
Parents and schools can take steps to help children and teens manage their online behaviors and handle cyberbullying. For instance, parents should have frequent conversations with their children about how they are spending their time online. They should aim to be non-judgmental in these conversations and focus on helping their children process and reflect on the kinds of information they are receiving. They should also join their children’s social networks and, if they see something they don’t like, have a conversation with their child about this issue.
If a child is being bullied, the parents and/or child must tell the bully to stop. To reduce the impact of the bullying on the child, parents and teachers should help him or her feel connected to others at school and home. They should also talk with their child about how he/she is feeling and monitor for signs of depression, which can include sadness, loss of interest in activities, and isolation. If the child is experiencing negative effects caused by cyberbullying, therapy can help them express their feelings openly.
Many schools and parents are already successfully making efforts to reduce the prevalence of all types of bullying, including cyberbullying. Research has shown that children who bully others often have poor emotional regulation. They also tend to attribute hostile motives to others’ behaviors. Interventions targeted at improving social-emotional skills, such as problem-solving, coping with stress, and empathy, can reduce multiple forms of aggression, including bullying. Here are a few more strategies that have been effective in reducing the risk of bullying:
- Educate your children about bullying, including the consequences they may experience if they bully others.
- Teach children about healthy online behaviors.
- Model positive examples for your children in your relationships with them and other people.
Christine Howard, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
* The research described in this blog was obtained from: Stringer, H. (2017, April). Raising a generation to be safe and kind online. Monitor on Psychology; (2010, April). Bullying: What parents and teachers can do to stop it. Retrieved from www.apa.org; Bullying: How parents, teachers, and kids can take actions to prevent bullying. Retrieved from www.apa.org.