Evolution of cellphones and social media has taken bullying from a school playground to cyberbullying through a hand-held device that can be with your child 24/7, making this a very concerning trend for mental health in children.
“Before, a child could leave school and go to their home for a safe space,” said Dr. Alison Jones, psychiatrist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “In today’s world, cyberbullying can follow you child anywhere. There is really no escape from it.”
Cyberbullying can include:
- Sending negative, hateful messages or threats online
- Spreading rumors online or through texts
- Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or webpages
- Stealing a person’s account information to send damaging messages
- Sharing content not intended to be shared online
Recognize cyberbullying symptoms
Cyberbullying can take many forms with numerous apps, forums and social media accounts available today. The most common age range for cyberbullying occurs between seventh and 10th grade, said Dr. Jones. Once cyberbullying has occurred, the message, post, screenshot or comment can spread like “wild fire,” she said.
According to bullyingstatics.org, nearly half of young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying, and 10 to 20% experience it regularly.
“The persistence can be the most harmful factor about cyberbullying,” Dr. Jones said.
Bullying can cause both physical and psychological scars for children.
Common signs can be isolation, depression or anxiety, and irritability when it comes to their smartphone, friends, school or social media. Oftentimes, Dr. Jones said, children avoid school. In extreme cases, cyberbullying may lead to self-harm or suicide.
Stop cyberbullying before it begins
In a perfect world, Dr. Jones would want all teens to discontinue use of smartphones or other smart devices where the cyberbullying is happening. However, she understands that most children fear missing out on those social platforms, and even schools require smart devices for education.
She encourages parents to follow the “wait until eighth” pledge. The Wait Until 8th pledge empowers parents to rally together to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade.
Whether you decide to wait to give your child a smartphone, you can establish boundaries and rules around social media and smart devices early on to create expectations around sites and accounts.
Additionally, Dr. Jones said parental control apps are another way for parents to monitor what their child is doing on their smart device
“Teens are getting progressively smarter at ways to avoid monitoring from their parents,” she said. “If you explain the permanence of content being shared and have an open dialogue and trust with your child, it will be easier to be aware of any cyberbullying.”
Studies have shown only one in 10 teens tells a parent if they have been a cyberbully victim. Dr. Jones said approach the conversation with your child in a supportive way.
“If you demand to take their phone away, the child may become defensive and keep information from you,” she said. “Be sure to meet them where they are at, and express love and support in the conversation.”
Parents also can recruit a coach, teacher, counselor or trustworthy young adult in their life to continue the conversation.
Stand up to cyberbullies
Once cyberbullying on social media has occurred, Dr. Jones encourages parents to be there to support their child.
“Today’s social climate can feed into the spread of hate,” she said. “As parents, you can model appropriate behavior by posting positively online.”
Dr. Jones also mentioned encouraging your child to stand up to cyberbullies, and not continue to spread misinformation about fellow classmates.
“Explain to the child that if you are sent something, stand up for others and let people know it is not OK to do that and share information about someone else,” she said.
Additionally, cyberbullying can cause exclusion, said Dr. Kelsie-Marie Offenwanger, clinical psychologist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. One study showed that 70% of teenagers feel left out or excluded when using social media; 43% deleted a post or felt bad about themselves because no one commented or “likes” their post and 35% were cyberbullied.
“The key is we need to listen to those who have been bullied and not be dismissive,” she said.
Visit stopbullying.gov to learn how you can get involved and stop bullying.