Today, kids and teens are constantly using social media sites and smartphone apps like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. While these platforms give children lots of opportunities to interact outside of the classroom and engage with their peers, it has also given rise to a new form of bullying: cyberbullying. According to Dr. Maurice Elias, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Interdisciplinary Health at Rutgers University and a Parent Toolkit expert, “Cyberbullying is the use of electronic media for the purposes of harassment, victimization, and bullying of a peer.”
In total, 80% of teens online today use social media. 69% of social media using teens think their peers are mostly kind to one another on the platforms, but 88% have reported that they have seen someone be mean or cruel to a peer online. This behavior can be something as small as a rude comment on someone’s picture about their appearance, or as serious as constant torment and ridicule against a student.
Cyberbullying can have long lasting impacts on teens and their behavior after it is committed. Dr. Elias says cyberbullying can have the same impacts as traditional forms of bullying, including withdrawal from family and friends, depression, and in some cases, suicide. Cyberbullying is something that all parents must be aware of and talk to kids about. Here’s how:
Middle School Peak
Dr. Elias says that just like normal bullying, cyberbullying peaks in middle school. This effect is explained for developmental reasons. “When kids reach middle school we see a shift in their behavior and attitudes towards one another, and one aspect of this is how they interact with one another. As their behavior changes, we see a rise in bullying, as well as cyberbullying,” Elias said. Middle school kids also have the tendency of being impacted much more by cyberbullying than they do in high school. “When kids are in high school, they have a much higher tendency to see the bigger picture and the small magnitude that a mean comment or secret shared online can really have. Middle school kids on the other hand may think that if one person online knows something about them and shares it, then everyone must know about it,” Elias says. “These kids have a much higher tendency to catastrophize things, and as a result, feel much more ashamed about what they may be teased about. This can lead to them feeling much more ashamed of something, and will not want to talk about it as much.”
Consequences of Committing It
A lot of kids are victims of cyberbullying, but a lot are also perpetrators. When kids bully someone online, they may not think about the ramifications. However, the reality in today’s world is there can be very serious punishment. Many states have their own policy and laws regarding cyberbullying, and many schools across the country have their own rules as well. If caught, kids can face serious consequences and punishment. In many states, laws have been passed that classify cyberbullying and harassment as a class A or B misdemeanor, both punishable by serving time, or being fined up to $1,000.
Be Frank About It
Cyberbullying for parents can be a hard topic to discuss and it may be difficult for your children to listen to what you have to say. Dr. Elias suggests that the best way to talk to your child about it is in a very clear and matter-of fact manner. “You must explain to your kids that cyberbullying is a horrible thing to do to someone, and the sort of effects it can have on someone else can be devastating,” he says.
Following Your Child’s Online Activity
Some parents may think that the best way to handle their child’s online activity is to follow all of their social media accounts, but this can actually create more problems in some circumstances. If you constantly follow your child’s online activity, they may see it as a major invasion of their privacy, and could distance themselves from you. If you think your child has become a victim online, it’s best to approach the situation with care. Instead of reading the online information about your child and confronting them about it, Dr. Elias recommends talking with them about it away from the website in an open and welcoming way. If your child is the perpetrator of the bullying, you should first try to stop this behavior by cutting him or her off from the site. However, if you think the bullying continues, you may have to step in and start monitoring their daily online activity.
Helping Your Child
As parents, it can be hard to see your child being bullied. Kids can often feel isolated, alone and ashamed of themselves as a result. “Kid’s don’t come forward when cyberbullying happens to them because they think they deserve it. It’s important that they know that no one deserves to be treated like this,” Dr. Elias says. It can be hard to get your children to communicate with you when they are being bullied. It is important that they know that they can come directly to you, but they can also turn to a variety of other people as well. “Older siblings, coaches, teachers, and other family members are all options for people kids can turn to if they are being bullied and need someone to talk about it with.” It can also be helpful to talk with your child’s school counselor about how to handle the situation.
Understanding how kids behave on social media and the effects cyberbullying can have on children are both essential in helping to communicate with your kids about this important issue. In today’s technological age, kids grow up online as much as they do in the real world. Educating yourself about how kids interact online is the best way to understand how technology can have an impact on their development.