Cyberbullying is the high-tech, mutated version of bullying that so many of our children encounter nowadays. 32 percent of teens have been victims of some type of cyberbullying so it’s obviously a huge issue. Noah Smith offers insights and advice for handling cyberbullying wisely, guidance usable for both victims and their families. Noah loves sharing his travel advice on WellnessVoyager. He tries to take one big trip each year, is currently saving up to backpack through Europe, and graced our blog with his presence this morning through these insights into the mental health struggles so many endure throughout their childhood.
Author: Noah Smith
Mention the word “bully” and what comes to mind? For many adults, the term conjures up images of a juvenile thug with tattered clothes and big muscles stealing lunch money from his terrified victims. In some ways this classic depiction still rings true. In other cases, however, bullies have traded in the street corner shakedown racket for smartphones and social media accounts. Experts call this new, high-tech form of harassment cyberbullying. In many ways, the effects of cyberbullying are far more devastating than the old school approach. Here’s why:
- Anonymity. Cyberspace enables a bully to torment others while shielding the offender from reprisal. The old “sock ’em in the nose” approach to fighting an aggressor is useless in such cases. This fact worsens the target’s sense of helplessness.
- Vulgarity. Digital media removes the face-to-face aspect of communication that makes people prone to civility. Cyberspace is a virtual free-for-all in which the only rule is to cause as much pain as possible by using any means necessary.
- Accessibility. Internet access and smartphones are cheap and easy to get. This enables anyone with a grudge to turn the cyberworld into a place to indulge their darkest impulses. In some cases, disturbed individuals have found a lost phone and used it to cyberbully complete strangers.
Anonymous, abusive, and elusive: these qualities make cyberbullies dangerous. The consequences of their actions are especially dangerous to adolescents. Peer approval is all-important during the formative years of one’s life. According to a paper from Toronto University Worldwide, rejection or ostracization can set the stage for later problems such as bad grades, drug addiction, and even criminal activity.
Why Cyberbullies Love to Target the New Kid
Not all kids experience cyberbullying, of course. As with traditional bullies, digital predators focus on those they see as weak or vulnerable. Quite often, their chosen victim is the new kid in school. According to Psychology Today, this is because newcomers are socially isolated. They have yet to develop a network of supportive friends, making them easy prey. A recent arrival may find her email or social media account filled with offensive messages from people whom she had no idea existed a few days before. The effects can devastate her self-esteem and set her up for years of lonely isolation.
Watching this happen to anyone’s child is tough for concerned adults. The emotional toil is catastrophic when the victim is your own kid. The good news is that neither parents nor their family members are helpless in the face of cyberbullying. Here are proven ways you can fight back:
- Begin by placing blame where it lies: with the bully. The victim should refuse to feel flawed or worthless, no matter what the cyberbully says or does. This act of self-assertion lessens the predator’s power to harm others.
- Document everything. Nothing in cyberspace ever goes away. While this fact adds to the pain of cyberbullying, it also creates an everlasting record of the bully’s misdeeds. For this reason, it’s vital to never delete demeaning or threatening messages.
- Use the available tools. Email and social media providers offer powerful tools to secure accounts and foil predators. Make sure you kids know how to use them. They should never share passwords, divulge sensitive information, or share embarrassing or inappropriate images via digital means.
- Get help. There’s no reason for those targeted by cyberbullies to feel bad about alerting parents, teachers, or other authority figures to what’s going on. Doing so can help to stop the predator from targeting other victims in the future.
- Create a safe space at home. You can do this by establishing an “Internet free” period of time during which everyone in the home, adults included, must log out of their accounts, turn off all devices, and reflect on the events of the day. Your child should know that she can approach you during this interval to discuss whatever is on her mind. This will give her a much-needed sense of emotional security that will help her to face who or whatever may come her way, including a cyberbully intent on gaining emotional satisfaction at her expense.
Cyberbullies can cause a lot of undeserved suffering. But using the tips discussed in this post can help parents and kids to stand up for their rights, making the Internet a safer place for everyone.