In our growing technological world, Internet use has become a part of regular life for teenagers today. Practically all youth between the ages of 12 and 17 use the Internet, averaging about 17 hours per week on-line, with some spending more than 40 hours per week on-line. With its 24/7 accessibility and lack of face-to-face contact, communicating on-line has led to a new form of bullying in young people known as cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying occurs when a teen uses the Internet, text messages, emails, social media websites, on-line forums, chat rooms or other digital technology to harass, threaten or humiliate another teen. Since the Internet and cellphones are always at a teen’s fingertips, unlike traditional schoolyard bullying, cyberbullying can happen anytime, anywhere and can be done anonymously. A teen may not be sure who is targeting them. Cyberbullying also has the potential to be committed in front of thousands of people, as a bullying email can be forwarded to many or a mean social media post can be shared publicly, becoming even more humiliating. Just as with traditional bullying, cyberbullying has the potential to cause teens to feel hurt, angry, helpless, isolated and even suicidal. It can lead to problems such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
According to Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, at least one out of every five middle and high school students are victims of cyberbullying. Many of these teens will not tell anyone about the cyberbullying, especially not their parents. A teen may be a target of cyberbullying if he or she:
Unexpectedly stops using their devices
Appears nervous or jumpy when using their devices
Appears to be angry, depressed or frustrated after going on-line
Shows changes in mood, behavior, sleep, appetite or shows signs of depression
Avoids discussion about their on-line habits
Becomes unusually secretive, especially when it comes to on-line activities
If you discover your teen is a victim of cyberbullying, encourage your teen not to reply to any incidents of cyberbullying, no matter how hurtful or untrue. Responding will only make the situation worse and cyberbullies are looking to provoke a reaction from their victims. The Cyberbullying Research Center recommends the following tips for parents of cyberbullied teens:
Make sure your teen is (and feels) safe. The safety and well-being of your child should always be the foremost priority. Demonstrate through words and actions that you both desire the same end result: to stop the cyberbullying.
Talk with and listen to your teen. Engage your teen in conversation, take time to patiently learn the details.
Collect evidence. Print out or make screen shots of conversations, messages, emails, pictures or any other proof of the cyberbullying. Keep a record of all incidents including details like location, frequency, time, witnesses and back story.
Work with the school. Seek the help of teachers and administrators if the cyberbullying is occurring at school.
Contact the police when physical threats are involved.
If necessary, seek counseling. Your teen may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional.
Prevent it from reoccurring. If your teen is being bullied through social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter, help them set up privacy controls to block the bully from contacting them.
Encourage your teen to keep talking to you about their on-line activity so small issues don’t have the opportunity to become major situations.
If you have any questions, contact the Whitley County Cooperative Extension Service at 549-1430; e-mail DL_CES_WHITLEY@EMAIL.UKY.EDU; or visit the office located at 4275 N. Highway 25W in Goldbug.