Watch a school playground and you might not see signs of bullying.
But bullying is happening more than ever, mostly within the digital network of cyberspace. It’s called cyberbullying and according to bullyingstatistics.org:
- Nearly half of young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly.
- Mean, hurtful comments and gossip are the most common types of cyberbullying, and in cyberspace they can circulate widely in just minutes.
- Girls are at least as likely as boys to be cyberbullies or be victimized.
- Boys are more likely to be threatened by cyberbullies than girls.
- Cyberbullying victims are more likely to have low self-esteem and consider suicide.
Recognize cyberbullying symptoms
“Cyberbullies do their bullying through text messaging and social media such as Facebook,” said Wendy Chryst, a clinical social worker at Marshfield Clinic who sees mostly adolescents. “It can go on at any time of the day or night, and because it’s anonymous, youths say a lot crueler things than they would face to face.”
Bullying can cause both physical and psychological scars for children, according to Dr. Michael Miller, a Marshfield Clinic Health System psychologist.
“With younger children the physical signs, such as stomach aches, lack of appetite and restless sleep are more evident,” Miller said. “In older children and teens, problems tend to be more psychological in nature and can result in depression and anxiety.”
Home is no longer a “safe zone,” for a child who is bullied. With the Internet and cell phones, bullies are able to reach their victims anywhere, anytime.
Stand up to cyberbullies
Miller said it’s essential we pay attention to bullying.
“A good method is to get bystanders involved in supporting the child who is being bullied at school,” he said. “Once bystanders step in to speak up and make it clear ‘we don’t do that in our school,’ the victim sees needed support and the bully sees a team of resistance.”
Wisconsin law requires school districts to have policies on bullying, but not specifically cyberbullying, said Justin Patchin, Ph.D., professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“The state has a model policy that includes cyberbullying, but schools aren’t required to adopt that policy,” he said. “We know some schools are struggling to address this issue. They are strapped for funds, and they’re losing counselors or resources to do anti-bullying curricula.”
Fortunately, some kids are willing or even eager to face up to bullies on their own.
Successful school-based programs typically use empathy, forgiveness and kindness. They encourage students to be intentionally kind to the abuser and make him or her think about their behavior instead of just going along with it. Students can see the power in numbers.
In school or not, we must pay close attention to victims.
“It’s really about making them feel heard,” Chryst said. “We need to listen to them and validate them as victims. They need to know someone’s on their side.”
Visit stopbullying.gov to learn how you can get involved and stop bullying.