Cyberbullying is one of the most pervasive threats to today’s children - and new evidence is highlighting a number of long-term effects it can have on their mental health.
Cyberbullying is exactly what it sounds like - people bullying each other in the digital realm. However, there are a few distinct characteristics that separate it from ‘physical’ bullying, which remains the classic image in spite of its declining popularity. Furthermore, cyberbullying is:
● Remote: Bullies can reach their targets across any physical distance. Almost 75% of teens have access to a smartphone, and most of those who don’t can access the internet from a desktop or laptop computer. This means that children are not safe from bullying once they come home from school.
● Easy: It isn’t difficult to become a cyberbully - a target and a fake account to disguise their involvement are all children need to get started. However, this also means that any child can become a cyberbully - even those who are bullied themselves. It’s not uncommon for teens to become bullies in a kind of self-defense, wanting to take control and hurt the people who hurt them.
● Controllable: Most online methods of communicating have ways of ‘blocking’ users - and bullies can be shut down after their first message by restricting them from contacting you. It’s even easier to block when only people your child knows can contact them.
Unfortunately, even one incident of cyberbullying can have serious effects on your child.
The first major impact of cyberbullying is causing low self-esteem.
Many teens see the internet as a source of social status - it’s not a part of their social life, it is their social life, and real-world events are something to tie into it. Accordingly, being mocked here can have exactly the opposite effect - it convinces them that they’re not valuable and shouldn’t bother trying to be around other people.
Teens who lose their self-esteem often find it difficult to recover - they need daily affirmation, not a pat on the head every month or two, and compliments that may have sufficed before the bullying may not be enough when they’re viewing the world through the lens of pessimism.
If this goes on for long enough - or the bullying is severe enough - children can be affected by clinical depression. Now, most teens will probably have a few glum days - mood swings and hormonal changes all but guarantee that. However, a prolonged period of depression can drastically reduce a child’s performance in school. This makes it harder to graduate, harder to do well in college (if they attend at all), and significantly reduces their chances of getting a well-paying job.
In fact, it could take decades for someone to truly recover from severe depression as a child. We do the best we can, of course, but early intervention is critical.
Fortunately, as bad as all of this is, there is good news. Cyberbullying isn’t really that hard to stop - and unlike the physical world, where size really does matter, the digital world acts as a great equalizer where bullied children often have more power than their bullies. They just have to learn how to use it.
Instead of simply waiting for your child to be bullied, try being proactive and teaching them how to recognize bullying behaviors and put a stop to them. This can help build your child’s confidence, and the day they refuse to give value to the bully’s opinions is the day they can no longer be hurt. It really could make all the difference, so talk to your child about how to beat cyberbullying today.