Cyberbullying: A Growing problem in America
According to a 2011 report by the National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying affects nearly a half of all American teens. Defined as the use of communication technologies for the intention of harming another person, cyberbullying can include mean text messages or emails; rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. Cyberbullying via online social networks, such as Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have garnered national attention and placed this issue at the media forefront.
While it is true that those being cyberbullied are often also bullied in person, cyberbullying can be harder to escape given the anonymous nature in which it is usually conducted, the virtually impossible task of erasing messages once posted and the fact that it can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Effects of Cyberbullying
Like traditional bullying, cyberbullying can have many deleterious effects, including, but not limited to, increased substance use, increased truancy, poor school performance, increased health problems and lower self-esteem. In the most tragic of cases, potentially preventable suicides have occurred. Members of our local community, including parents, peers, teachers, physicians, and law enforcement, need to be aware of this issue and have to be sensitive when approaching those involved.
As parents and physicians, our goal is to raise awareness and empower other parents to recognize, stop, and even prevent cyberbullying. Parents should follow these five simple steps to help eliminate cyberbullying.
- Be aware of what your kids are doing online.
- Establish rules about technology use.
- Create an environment for open dialog with your child.
- Understand school rules on cyberbullying.
- Report cyberbullying when it is detected.
It is always advisable that parents know what their children are doing online; this may be accomplished by educating yourself about the websites and networks they are using, placing all internet ready devices in common areas within your home and/or requiring your children to give you access to such accounts. Strict prohibition of such websites and internet use is not advised.
We encourage parents to consider the potentially unique importance of the online identity to youth with psychological difficulties. Often, this online identity directly affects the youth’s mental health and psychological sense of self. According to a February 2013 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. Sivashankar recommends that parents remember that online social networks offer such youth alternative opportunities for positive peer interaction, self-expression, and control of self-presentation that they find difficult to obtain in face-to-face interactions.
Rather than punish the victim further by immediately closing their account, we advise parents to block bullying messages, report cyberbullying behaviors (to the school, the online service provider, and the local authorities), consider what additional resources may be needed (such as, but not limited to counseling and suicide prevention groups) and engage your child in the decision on whether or not to close his/her accounts. By allowing a victim the ability to have an active role in this decision, we empower them. One such form of empowerment might include creating a private blog in which the child can gain support online and offline and take back the power from the bully. We must remember to maintain our children’s sense of self and not dispose of their online identities, despite facing the challenges of online cyberbullying.
For more information about bullying, visit the Partners in Adolescent Lifestyle Support Program (PALS)