Cyberbullying is something I’ve heard so much about from teens I work with in counseling. A little information about cyberbullying was included in the News 2 WKRN special on teen mental health that I was part of recently. This is such a prevalent and fairly new type of bullying that I felt it deserved its own article. So, here you go. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.
What is Cyberbullying?
In Part 1, we talked about bullying involving a perceived power differential. Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that has really gained momentum in the past few years. About 16% of students reported having been cyberbullied in 2015, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. You very well may have a good handle on what cyberbullying is. For those who may not know already, stopbullying.gov gives a good definition: “Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.” It’s not just social media. There are plenty of other forms that cyberbullying can take. This may include voice (such as video messaging or facetime), live feed, or during online gaming. Whether it happens via social media, text, direct messaging, or other avenues, it is still bullying.
How is Cyberbullying Different?
Cyberbullying can give very little relief to the person being bullied because it has the potential to be constant – in and out of school. This can become even more stressful and anxiety-provoking than bullying that is limited to the school setting. Other types of bullying may require some sort of physical presence by both parties, but not cyberbullying. It can happen at school, at home, on vacation, even in your sleep. It really has the potential to be constant. The person being bullied and the person bullying may not even have actual contact with one another. You don’t have to speak directly to someone in order to say or post bad things about them.
A post online can last and do damage for a very long time. Once it is up, it’s “out there.” Lots of people may see it. They may screenshot it, save it on their phones, or share it with others. It can spread like wildfire. Much of the time, the person being bullied has to attend school with those same people who’ve seen the post. They may be going to school with these people for the next several years.
How is Cyberbullying Handled?
It can be difficult for schools to deal with cyberbullying, unless it is proven that it occurred while in school. However, if there is anything useful about cyberbullying, it may be that most social media posts, text messages, picture and video messages, etc. are time stamped. I’ve seen this help to prove cyberbullying occurred during school, and administrators were able to step in and put a stop to it.
Cyberbullying sometimes has to be addressed as a legal issue for various reasons.
Consequences of Cyberbullying
Electronic communication sort of stays “out there” after it happens and can have unpleasant consequences for both the person being bullied and the person bullying. The longer a hurtful post stays up, the more people it’s likely to be seen. However, it increases the likelihood of the person who made the post being caught for bullying.
Making these kinds of posts can also hurt the person who posted them. The posts may be viewed by universities during the admissions process or by prospective employers. You may have noticed these types of things when tweets and posts from athletes, musicians, and actors are brought up and publicized years later.
How to Monitor and Help Your Teen
Cyberbullying can easily fly below the radar because it’s not right there in a parent or teacher’s face. Indications are that only about 40% of those who are bullied will actually report it (NCES & Bureau of Justice Statistics). It’s important to check with your teenager on how social relationships are going, both in person and electronically. Also – and this is so important – please don’t dismiss social media issues as “teen drama.” It’s often far from that. Electronic communication and socializing very well may be a huge part of your teen’s life. It is not uncommon for teens and parents to seek out counseling for social anxiety, depressed mood, and other issues related to cyberbullying.
How likely is your teen to be bullied? Part 3 of this 5-part series focuses on risk factors for being bullied and for bullying.
If you or your teen are interested in beginning therapy, or just have questions, feel free to contact me. I offer a few different services for teens and young adults who are dealing with effects of current or past bullying. If you’re unsure, I offer free 15-minute consultations so you can ask questions and see if it seems like we’d be a good fit to work together. Call 931-626-3278 or email [email protected].