Bullying has a new platform thanks to modern technology. Kids today have to deal with cyberbullying – instant messages, texts, photographs, videos and posts – that can cause significant psychological damage. While there has been some debate as to whether cyberbullying is equally as damaging as traditional bullying, the threat to those victimized online is indisputable. If your child is suffering from cyberbullying, you have rights.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying refers to any type of digital bullying, harassing, ridiculing or intimidating. It takes place through the use of technology, often in the form of messages. Cyberbullying can take many forms, including:
- Text messages sent to the victim’s phone
- Direct messages on an app or social media account
- Public posts on social networking sites
- Public comments on the victim’s pictures or posts
- Bullying during online games
- Photographs or videos circulated to other students
- Altered or embarrassing photos
- Leaking private photos (“revenge porn”)
- Digital sexual harassment
Cyberbullying can involve sex crimes, verbal abuse or assault, mental abuse, psychological abuse, threats or intimidation, and cyberstalking. In some cases, if the victim knows his or her bullies, cyberbullying can be paired with traditional bullying at school or elsewhere.
Cyberbullying vs. Traditional Bullying
Studies have shown that both types of bullying are perceived as equally damaging. According to one study, participants ranked a set of hypothetical bullying scenarios that used different mediums – traditional vs. digital. The results showed that cyberbullying scenarios were perceived as worse than traditional bullying, but only by a small amount. The study concluded that cyberbullying is at least as damaging as traditional bullying and that the two are perceived as essentially the same by victims.
Another study by Sheri Bauman of the University of Arizona’s College of Education also determined that traditional and cyberbullying are similar in terms of the distress they cause. This study found that when levels of distress were measured using hypothetical cyber and traditional bullying scenarios, the most profound difference was not caused by the medium but the type of bullying. Bullying using sexual material, whether through traditional bullying or electronically, had the highest distress response.
The Dangers of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is not confined to the hours of a school day. A child who is dealing with cyberbullying can experience it all day, every day, through screens and electronics. There is no relief from bullying when the child goes home. In addition, cyberbullies can remain anonymous, making it more difficult for adults and authorities to step in and put a stop to the issue. Cyberbullying also comes with a larger potential audience, which can increase the ramifications for the victim.
Cyberbullying can result in the following types of harm:
- Chronic anxiety
- Low self-esteem
- Regression (in a young child)
- Nightmares or bedwetting
- Psychological harm
- Reduced performance in school
- Withdrawal from society
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Behavioral problems
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
Traditional bullying can also have these effects on a victim, as well as the risk of physical injuries and sexual assault. Both types of bullying can be extremely harmful to a victim and, in the worst cases, lead to the loss of a victim’s life due to suicide. If you suspect any form of bullying, there are steps that you can take to protect your child.
What to Do if Your Child Is Being Cyberbullied
If your child is dealing with cyberbullying, report it to your child’s school so that they are aware of the situation. If the bullying is taking place through a social networking site or app, report it to the online service provider and block the user. Set your child’s apps and profiles to private so that only certain people can contact him or her.
If cyberbullying crosses the line into criminal activity – such as stalking, hate crimes, threats of violence or child pornography – report it to law enforcement. Talk to your child and ask how he or she is doing. Pay attention to his or her behaviors to look for signs of depression. Consider therapy if your child’s mental health has been affected by cyberbullying.