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From Cybervictim to Cybersurvivor in the New Age of Bullying

See the signs and address the situation together

Words by
Allyson Thayne

NOV 17, 2021

From Cybervictim to Cybersurvivor in the New Age of Bullying

See the signs and address the situation together

As technology continues to advance and become an integral part of our daily lives, the devices we use have undeniably altered the way we interact with each other. While social media and messaging services may provide us with global connectivity that expands our social networks, they also create a risky environment for young people who spend extensive time on screens. Via social media and text, adolescents experience a form of aggression that has evolved over the last decade—cyberbullying. The Pew Research Center found that 59% of teenagers in the U.S. had experienced some form of cyberbullying and that the risk of their exposure increased as they spent more time online (Anderson, 2018).

What makes cyberbullying unique compared to traditional, face-to-face bullying is that it can happen at any time or frequently at home (Bottino, 2015). Even though cyberbullying occurs in an ambiguous virtual environment, it still infiltrates the spaces children consider safe. Individuals such as law enforcement, teachers, bystanders, social media sites, and elected officials certainly play a part in making changes toward preventing cyberbullying (Anderson, 2018). When it comes to protecting children from these virtual attacks, the first line of defense is parents.

Cyberbullying is the intentional and frequent use of electronic devices to harm, humiliate, torment, or scare another person.

—Dr. Sara Mota Borges Bottino, Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Department of Psychiatry

The Characteristics of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is the intentional and frequent use of electronic devices to harm, humiliate, torment, or scare another person. The attacker will usually take advantage of the anonymity provided by online platforms to avoid the consequences of their actions while attracting the attention of a larger audience (Bottino, 2015).

Many of the beneficial elements of the internet and social media may work against victims of cyberbullying because harmful information spread by aggressors is continuously available for viewing and it can be difficult to have the information removed (Feinberg, 2010).

Cyberbullying may be difficult to recognize because there are many types of harassment a cyberbully may use. These might include:


  1. Attacking insults
  2. Spreading gossip
  3. Stealing identity data
  4. Making violent threats
  5. Soliciting nude images
  6. Breaching trust
  7. Distributing explicit images
  8. Excluding from online forums
  9. Using vulgarity online
  10. Harassing through text or email

(Anderson, 2018; Bottino, 2015; Feinberg, 2010)

Children and adolescents who are victimized by cyber-aggression are more vulnerable to manipulation, are less educated about internet safety, and are less resilient in the face of challenges.

—Dr. Ted Feinberg, EDD, NCSP, National Association of School Psychologists

Since physical confrontation is not generally associated with cyberbullying, aggressors will generally use these tactics to inflict psychological distress on their victims. They may target an adolescent’s reputation, friendships, and social status (Bottino, 2015). Children and adolescents are statistically more at risk of cyberbullying becoming a serious issue because they are more vulnerable to manipulation, are less educated about internet safety, and are less resilient in the face of challenges (Feinberg, 2010). While these aspects will improve as children mature, it is still vital to protect them during these formative years.

How Does Cyberbullying Affect Your Child?

Internet troll

Cyberbullying can have detrimental effects on children as they shape their identities through peer interactions. Research shows that 50% of adolescents who experience cyberbullying are also victims of in-person bullying (Feinberg, 2010), eliciting feelings of isolation at school and at home. Such stressful and fearful situations can incite physical health problems: headaches, stomach aches, and sleep problems as well as mental health challenges such as low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression (Bottino, 2015). Children can begin to develop behavioral problems: externalized aggression and hostility, hyperactivity disorder, and substance abuse  (Zhang, 2020).

Victims of cyberbullying may find themselves experiencing suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, as well as engaging in self-harm.

—Xi Zhang, Natural Language Processing Group, Nanjing University

Victims may find themselves facing a complete social rejection, and in turn, may blame themselves for the abuse. The far reach of the online environment and untouchability the internet grants aggressors may make these victims feel hopeless. In some cases, these struggles may cause individuals to feel powerless to fix their situation; many find themselves experiencing suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or engaging in self-harm (Zhang, 2020).

Fortunately, there are some preventative measures and coping techniques that parents can teach their children. These strategies empower young people to deal with cyberbullying and can mitigate the impact of digital aggression on their physical and psychological well-being.

So, How Can You Help Your Child?

Recognize the signs

Victims of cyberbullying are often reluctant to report incidents. Your child may be emotionally traumatized and unable to process their experience. They may also be afraid of retaliation if they speak up against the aggressor (Feinberg, 2010). In one study, many adolescents felt a need to be independent and take responsibility for their problems. Others expressed concern that talking about the bullying with a parent could result in restricting their electronic use (Bottino, 2015).

If parents learn to recognize the signs of cyberbullying, they can better bridge the communication gap created by their children’s fear and insecurity. Offering support and a safe place is the best way to protect and build resilience (Khan, 2020). But these positive changes can only happen if the issue is addressed, either by children coming forward or by parents initiating a conversation to express their concerns.

Signs your child may be a cyberbully:


MOOD

  • Feeling nervous when texting or using social media

  • Getting upset after spending time online

  • Dodging conversations about their online activities

  • Losing interest in their favorite hobbies or activities

DEVICE USE

  • Appearing disinterested in using social media or electronic devices

  • Suddenly shutting off or walking away from a device they are using

  • Deleting or creating new social media accounts

SCHOOL

  • Feeling nervous or reluctant to go to school

  • Performing poorly in school

  • Distancing themselves from close friends

  • Becoming socially withdrawn, spending more time alone

PHYSICAL

  • Complaining about headaches or stomach aches

  • Experiencing consistent sleep problems

  • Inexplicably gaining or losing weight
Two friends talking

Teach your child how to react and respond

While prevention is the preferred approach to cyberbullying, it is more realistic to realize that this is not always possible. Parents can only influence what happens within their own home, and cyberbullying is often instigated by an external aggressor. However, research shows that when handling harassment, the family plays the strongest role in resolving these conflicts (Zhang, 2020). Since children spend a significant portion of their day outside the home, preparing children how to react and respond will help them navigate those situations.

Empower your child

  • Remind them that home is a safe place. By reassuring them that they can come to you for comfort and support, they will be more likely to open up to you about their struggles.
  • Tell them they are not to blame. Many children may blame themselves, believing they must have done or said something to deserve being targeted by the aggressor. Remind them of their self-worth and celebrate their individuality.
  • Help them communicate their concerns to a trusted teacher or school counselor. Children may not feel safe at school when they are experiencing cyber aggression because they fear the way their peers may treat them. Facilitate the connection with a trusted school authority figure that your child can go to for help to improve their confidence outside the home.
  • Encourage your child to refrain from retaliation against the aggressor. Not only can retaliation cause the cyberbully to intensify their harassment, but it can also make it unclear who instigated the attack. Teach them to remain calm, to stop and think rather than hastily taking action.
  • Explain the importance of keeping evidence of the attacks. Help them record as much of the abuse as they can; save screenshots that preserve critical information such as the date and time the abuse happened, emails, text messages, social media posts and comments, and user/screen names. These can be used as proof when reporting the aggressor to the proper authorities (parents, school, employer, or law enforcement).
  • Help them decide whether responding to the bully is the right action to take. If it is safe, publicly or privately confronting the bully may help your child use their voice and make the bully aware of the effect of their actions. However, sometimes confrontation may only give the bully more ammunition to use against your child.
  • Meet with a therapist. A therapist can help your child work through the emotional and psychological distress that comes from cyberbullying.
  • Block the bully to prevent further contact. This may not be a permanent solution, as the bully may simply create a new social media account to continue their harassment. However, it may reduce the exposure your child receives from the bully.
  • Work together to create a device usage contract with them. While it is important not to abuse this privilege, this will allow parents to monitor their child’s social media and internet activities and be part of their child’s online world to stay aware of any potential or ongoing issues.
  • Teach them the importance of their role as a bystander to cyberbullying. Even if your child has never experienced it first hand, they must be educated on the issue to be a support and friend to their bullied peers. Remind them not to participate in or contribute to the cyberbully’s attacks.
  • Educate them about internet safety. Teach kids to never share passwords, private pictures, or personal information with anyone online. They should know not to accept social media friend requests or engage in personal conversations with people they don’t know and trust.
  • Report the cyberbully to the proper authorities. For more information on how to report cyberbullying, visit stopbullying.gov or the Cyberbullying Research Center.

(Dovi, 2020; Newport Academy, 2021; Olsen, 2018)

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