The internet is everywhere. It’s in homes, schools, your pocket, and your hand. It gives you the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere, and it can find the answer to almost any question you can think of. However, it doesn’t come without its share of downfalls.
One of the biggest problems facing children and teenagers online is cyberbullying – the modern bully’s new mode of warfare. But, what exactly is cyberbullying, and how common is it? What can we do to address it?
Cyberbullying is defined as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person, often done anonymously.” It’s more than just a rude text, and consists of a wide range of offenses. Being excluded online, cyberstalked, blackmailed, or “outed” by having private information released are all ways to be cyberbullied.
Cyberbullying makes kids feel unsafe, humiliated, and ostracized from their peers. Growing up is hard enough, but being bullied makes matters even worse. Victims can feel like public enemy #1 as they walk into school, turning what should be a safe environment for learning into one they fear. The bullying can also lead to depression and a loss of interest in schoolwork or extracurricular activities. Cyberbullying affects every aspect of a child’s life.
Unlike traditional bullying that a child can walk away from, or at least be shielded from while at home, cyberbullying can’t be left. Since the internet is always with you, so is the bully. This can be an exhausting ordeal for a child to go through.
Being a victim of cyberbullying is never easy, but is it really that common?
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According to the research, yes – in a survey conducted by KidGuard with 450 high school juniors and seniors around the country, 83.8% of them had witnessed cyberbullying.
The most common platforms for cyberbullying are Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and text messaging. These are platforms that nearly every high school student is on, making them relatively simple mediums for bullies. In 140 characters (Twitter’s limit), private and humiliating information about a student can be released to their entire class. With the click of a button, a rumor can be posted, shared, and “liked” by hundreds.
One of the biggest draws to social media is the ease at which content can be pushed out to massive audiences, but this can be dangerous when put in the wrong hands.
Beyond the ability to post and share content quickly, the anonymity and “protection” that the internet provides makes cyberbullying easier than classic bullying. Nearly 95% of juniors and seniors surveyed agree and believe that people are more likely to bully others if they’re online.
Cyberbullies don’t have to physically interact with their victims as they hurt them, so it is much easier to separate themselves from the emotional ramifications. Bullies can also choose to post content anonymously on platforms such as ask.fm, taking away the possibility of being punished.
At some point, you or someone you know will probably witness cyberbullying or become a victim. Knowing what to do and how you can help can mitigate the situation, heal emotional wounds, and stop the vicious cycle of bullying.
The best way to deal with cyberbullying is to prevent it in the first place. While this isn’t always attainable, it’s never a bad idea to bring awareness to the issue and to discuss with others. Talk about what cyberbullying is, what it looks like, and what its effects are. Remind yourself and others to be kind and considerate. Parents can help by showing their love frequently and explicitly. Teens might act as if they’re too cool for it, but parents still play a big role in building their child’s self-esteem.
Despite your best efforts, proactive measures against cyberbullying may only go so far. If you or someone you know becomes a victim, the first thing you should do is disengage immediately. Bullies want to elicit a response, and you shouldn’t encourage their behavior by giving them one. Take evidence of the bullying (such as a screenshot), and then block the perpetrator. You can then take this proof to the appropriate authorities, such as a school administrator or the police.
Keep an eye on the victim, and watch out for signs of depression, self-harm, a lack of interest in activities, or other self-destructive coping mechanisms. Be sensitive of their feelings and offer emotional support and love. Talk to them about the bullying when they’re ready, and make sure they know that you’re always there for them. Try pulling them away from their screens to have fun in the real world. If you are the one being bullied, limit your time online, monitor your mental health, and find close friends or family to confide in.
If you witness cyberbullying, reach out to the victim and offer your support. Even if you don’t know them well, a kind text message is a simple gesture that goes a long way. You can also take evidence to the appropriate authorities.